The harbour seal is the world’s most widely distributed pinniped, and that’s not the only reason it’s also among the most familiar: Throughout its vast Northern Hemisphere range, it commonly loafs and lolls about in the same inshore waters we humans like to frequent. Much of the time that one spies this smallish, speckled, über-cute seal, it’s in laidback, even downright lethargic mode: bobbing all whiskered and dewy-eyed in the surf, or hauled out on rocks, beaches, or piers looking as if it’s doing its best imitation of a sausage.

It’s also easy to think of the plump little harbour seal as a prey animal: an almost bitesized morsel for orcas and white sharks – and even, at or around haul-outs, vulnerable to coastal grey wolves and brown bears.

But give this wee sea-beastie its due. Harbour seals aren’t just sluglike nappers, great-white popcorn, and orca footballs: They’re also versatile and efficient marine predators, active hunters of a whole array of fishes as well as crustaceans and mollusks. And while it well outsizes most of its own prey, the seal also sometimes sets its sights on pretty hefty quarry.

Pretty hefty multi-armed quarry, in the case of some rare footage nabbed on January 21st in the coastal brine of British Columbia. Divers off Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island found themselves with front-row seats to a harbour seal’s vigorous attacks upon a giant Pacific octopus:

The giant Pacific octopus is, along with the seven-arm octopus, the biggest of its kind: Large specimens can well exceed 45 kilograms (100 pounds) and, exceptionally, span close to six metres (20 feet) across. We’re talking about as close to the mythical kraken as you can get (if you take that sea monster to be a gargantuan octopus rather than squid).

One of the two divers who witnessed the attack, Maxime Veilleux, a marine biologist, told Victoria, British Columbia’s Times Colonist that this seal-harried octopus was a male roughly two metres (6.6 feet) long. It discharged ink in its attempt to elude the marine mammal, which nonetheless was able to grab and ultimately tear off one of its eight arms.

The worse-for-wear octopus jetted off with its seven remaining appendages, while the harbour seal surfaced to gulp down its prize. As Veilleux noted to the newspaper, octopuses can regrow limbs.

The seal attack took place around sunset: a good time to observe giant Pacific octopuses, which typically shelter in seafloor dens during the day and hunt – for crabs, clams, fish, and other critters – mainly at night. (Though not always: A giant Pacific octopus lunched on a gull in broad daylight off the Victoria, BC waterfront back in 2012.)

This isn’t the first seal attack on giant Pacific octopuses caught on camera: In 2015, a harbour seal was photographed dispatching one off Victoria’s Ogden Point, where a couple of years before onlookers had filmed another seal/octopus encounter that didn’t end well for the cephalopod:

And pinnipeds with this sort of palate certainly aren’t confined to Canadian waters. In 2017, kayakers in South Bay, New Zealand filmed a brawny male fur seal dismembering a good-sized octopus:

But the British Columbia observation from last month is unique for being filmed down in Davy Jones’ locker. “To my knowledge,” Veilleux told the Times Colonist, “this is the first time this has been captured on camera. People see sea lions on the surface eating octopus, but you never see it underwater.”

Harbour seals, meanwhile, aren’t the only predators of the brainy and formidable giant Pacific octopus, also targeted, for example, by other pinnipeds—the Steller sea lion included—and various sharks (such as sevengills and Pacific sleeper sharks). And in the disarmingly cute octopus-eater department, harbour seals get a run for their money from sea otters, which are also disposed to a little kraken-snackin’ now and then.

Header image: Charles J. Sharp