There you are, in your boat, kayaking, in the water, in New Zealand or whatever. Here it comes, a seal! Or is it a sea lion? Does this matter? More on that later. What does it have in its—oh. It’s an octopus! What...

You just got slapped. In the face. By an octopus! And now WOAHHHHH! WHAT?! It’s on your boat! It’s holding your boat! And you hate octopuses!

What just happened? Who’s that seal? Why did it just slap you with a cephalopod? And why does this week feel like this:

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All good questions, some of which I can maybe answer.

First, why the fuck is this happening? Turns out, live octopuses are pretty hard to eat without almost choking to death. It happened to this dolphin, which sucks ... but also survival of the fittest or whatever. If this dolphin didn’t want to die like an idiot, it could have done a better job with the behavior that many marine mammals have evolved to avoid exactly that: slapping the octopus on the water so it gets stunned and doesn’t try to prevent itself from being eaten while being eaten.

This seal/sea lion (we’re almost there) was trying to do that, and whadya know: there’s a kayak to slap it against! Honestly, sounds good to me. Checks out.

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But back to that mammal. I know seals. I studied seals for five years and even wrote my college senior thesis about the evolution of seals. You could call me a seal expert, and I wouldn’t totally agree, but I also wouldn’t correct you.

Seals, sea lions, and walruses all belong to the Superfamily Pinnipedia, a group of animals within the Order Carnivora (all of your dogs, cats, bears, raccoons, and other similar boys) that have flippers for feet and live primarily in the water. It’s easy to tell walruses from the rest of their relatives (those tusks), but people have a hard time telling seals from sea lions.

Going deeper into the seal family, you have two different distinct groups: Phocidae (“true seals”) and Otariidae (the fur seals and sea lions). You can easily tell the “true seals” from the rest of their cousins because the true seals look like blubber torpedoes with faces. They’re so stupid looking, and I love them.

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Look at this true seal.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Conversely, fur seals and sea lions aren’t total tubes. Their rear flippers face forward, they have visible ears, and they have a more upright position. One that’s a little more regal, honestly. Not this dumbass, per se, but...

A fur seal.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The buddy in the video has visible ears, which means, at least, that it’s not a true seal. This video was taken in New Zealand, so it could either be some sort of sea lion, or more likely, to my eye, the dopey New Zealand fur seal pictured above.

Either way, a seal’s gotta eat, so a seal’s gotta slap around an octopus. Maybe next time, don’t get in the way.