Brad Wills has to have one of the best jobs in the world.
Where else would you see a seal chomping down on his lunch of a rather large, eight-armed octopus, the seal seemingly unaware of the tour boat and snapping phones a metre or so away, capturing every bite.
That’s exactly what Brad, owner/skipper of Cat Balou Cruises, based at Eden in Southern NSW, did – along with his boatload of tourists and locals last weekend.
“We operate out of Twofold Bay,” Brad said, “so we see a lot of wildlife and animals down here. We were out on one of our coastal wilderness cruises where we saw lots of dolphins and whales which was great, but then I heard a splash and turned around to see this seal behaving in what looked like an odd way.
“Normally with food, seals will just grab it, thrash it about a bit, and then eat it. I couldn’t believe when I saw the size of the octopus it had in its mouth.
“It was huge.”
Fortunately, one of the crew members was also a marine biologist so they were able to identify the octupus as a Macroctopus Maorum, or Maori Octupus. Originating in New Zealand, this octopus is quite rare in our southern waters.
Brad said the breed could weigh in as much as nine kilograms and be as long as three metres, but estimated last week’s seal lunch menu would have weighed in at about seven kilograms and measured two metres long.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” he said. “Sure, you see seals catch food like fish and squid but certainly not something this big.”
Brad said he was thrilled that one of his friends, photographer Sophia, who he described as a “whale watching tragic”, was also on board that day to capture the moment.
“She loves whale watching so much she always comes out with us on her days off,” he said. “It was so lucky she was there on that day.”
Sophia told Region Media she was standing near Brad when she also heard the commotion and saw what she thought was blood in the water.
“It was so red everywhere, I wanted to look but I couldn’t bear to see what was happening,” she said. “I ended up closing my eyes which wasn’t the best idea.”
When she realised what was going on, she ran down below to fetch her camera, pointed, waited, took aim and shot. And kept on shooting.
“I still can’t believe I got my dream shot,” she said. “I also can’t believe I just got a call from Australian Geographic asking me about the picture too.”
Brad said the 2022 whale watching season had already got off to a great start with many sightings off the east coast.
“We’re lucky that Eden is seen as one of the best whale watching spots in Australia now,” he said. It’s even better news that humpback whales have now been taken off the endangered species list.”
He said researchers believe that about 34,000 humpbacks would travel up and down the coast this season.
“It was also great to see so many Southern Right whales hanging around here for the past couple of weeks,” he said. “We hope they were hanging around because they were mating.”
“That would be fantastic, it’s a really hopeful sign that we’ll be seeing more and more of them.”
October is the prime time for watching when the mothers and calves make the trek down to Twofold Bay. Brad said it often only took minutes, once he’d taken his boat out, for whale watchers to see what they’d come for.
“It’s wonderful to see the babies come past with their mums,” he said. “They’re already learning from her even though they’re so young, but you can see them breaching just out of the bay.”
A Customs agent in another life, Brad said the view of the coastline from his “office” changed every day. “It’s such a rugged place, you can see everything here – and we certainly did that day when we saw the seal.”