By Tui Benjamin
These photographs capture the incredible moment three tourists witnessed an epic fight to the death between a 120kg seal and an unfortunate octopus.
Conner Stapley caught the unbelievable 20-minute battle during a kayaking tour in Kaikoura, in New Zealand’s South Island, on Tuesday (June 20) at about 2pm.
The 28-year-old was leading a group of three kayakers around Kaikoura’s South Bay when the dramatic scenes – which saw the 120kg (19 stone) adult male New Zealand fur seal rip the luckless octopus apart using sheer force – unfolded in front of them.
Conner, who is a guide for Kaikoura Kayaks, said: “It is quite rare to see something like this and rarer at this time of day – normally you would see New Zealand fur seals feeding in the evenings.
“I noticed a big flock of sea birds just congregating nearby – that is normally a sign there is something happening – and then the fight began.
“It went on for about 20 minutes, it was definitely one of the biggest octopuses I have ever seen.
“The seal was shaking it like a staffy with its favourite chew toy – they have to rip the tentacles off before they eat them, otherwise they stick to their throat and they have to throw it up and start again. They are literally dismembered.
“This octopus had no chance really. Seals love eating them and will eat up to 7kg of octopus a day, around here it is a staple part of their diet.
“We always promise kayakers they will see seals, but every day is different. Everyone was interested and no one got hit by any flying bits of octopus.
“You never get sick of going out on the water here – every day is always different and there is always something to see. I was pretty stoked to get these photos.”
New Zealand fur seals can hold their breath for up to 11 minutes at a time to dive underwater – in this case at depths of up to 30 metres (98ft) – to hunt their favourite delicacy.
Conner captured the images using his iPhone camera which was fitted with a waterproof case.
And Matt Foy, owner of Kaikoura Kayaks, said this was not the first-time dramatic scenes of seals fighting with octopuses have been spotted and filmed by his guides.
The 41-year-old said: “It is definitely not an everyday thing, you do see seals feeding on octopus but to spot them at this time of year is rarer, we hadn’t seen anything like that for a few months. The area we kayak in, there is always something to see.
“It was a real showstopper. Nature is a great show – people say it is like watching a David Attenborough documentary, they love it. It is pretty cool to watch.
“Normally the tussles go on for 10 to 15 minutes, sometimes even 20 minutes. Sometimes people are having to duck because pieces of octopus are flying through the air.
“The seals latch themselves on to the octopus and then they throw it around a bit like a dog and use its own bodyweight to rip it apart.
“Sometimes you see the octopus trying to fight back by squirting ink but that does not have any effect on the seal.
“Sometimes the octopuses even wrap their tentacles around the seal’s neck while the seal is busy trying to grab it.
“But nine out of 10 times the octopus will end up the loser – I have only ever seen the odd time where the octopus has managed to escape. If they do live, they can even grow their tentacles back.”