It takes place in a split second. A camera captures a flourish of activity beneath the surface of the ocean off the coast of New Zealand. It pans to the left to catch a man in a yellow kayak looking up. Then there’s a splash. A seal cracks over a wave, whipping a pink octopus tentacle through the air, slapping the man across the face with it.
And there it was, an instant viral video.
Interspecies fighting has long captured people’s attention. Snake vs. crocodile, crocodile vs. hippo, hippo vs. lion, lion vs. man, man vs. shark, shark vs. octopus, shark vs. shark and so on. It’s also a very understudied subject, as is its potential evolutionary impact. Researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles, in fact, have mused that the eventual dominance of humans over neanderthals may have been the result of the phenomenon, which they argue is driven by “obtaining priority access to females” in whatever area the interspecies violence occurs.
Anyway, back to the kayaker.
“My face happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the man in the kayak—who was paddling around off the coast of Kaikoura on New Zealand’s South Island at the time—told Yahoo7 News. Thousands of clicks later, people still can’t get enough of it.
What happened was actually pretty normal, aside from the well-timed slap across the face. Fur seals that live on the coast of New Zealand often go hunting underwater for food to eat, and they are particularly hungry for octopuses. There are videos online showing seals dismembering the cephalopods tentacle by tentacle, ripping off bite-sized pieces while fighting off defensive blasts of ink and suction cup-lined legs.
Octopuses generally eat crabs and smaller fish, avoiding scrapes with larger and more aggressive animals. Still, they’ve been known to put up a good fights when its called for. In one Seattle aquarium, a giant octopus was caught killing multiple sharks. It wasn’t until aquarium staff set up cameras that they realized why the sharks were dying.