Seal Catches Ride on Whale. Why Does This Keep Happening?

There’s another entry in the growing collection of pictures of animals riding on other animals.

Seals might not be able to stick out a thumb and hitch a ride, but that didn’t stop one from getting a lift on the back of a humpback whale in the waters off of New South Wales, Australia.

A whale expert with NSW National Parks told the Sydney Morning Herald that it was rare to see a seal riding a whale. Although that particular combination might be unusual in the wild, the Internet is full of examples of animals riding on other animals. There’s even a Reddit group and a Tumblr devoted to the topic.

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Why would an animal do this? Some animals have been trained to do it for circuses or amusement parks, explains Michael Napier, an animal expert at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

Sometimes, the passengers are parasites, such as lampreys that latch on to fish so that they can feed on their blood.

Piggyback rides can be beneficial for both animals. In Africa, the Cattle Egret (Ardeola ibis) often perches on the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer). In exchange for the ride, the egret eats ticks and other insects on the buffalo.

In 2014 and 2015, the conservation groups Wildlife ACT and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife caught a genet, a mongoose-like animal that lives in Africa and Europe, riding on everything from a black rhinoceros to a Cape buffalo. Like the egret, the genet feeds on insects stirred up by the grazing ungulates.

Other times, what ends up as a ride may have begun as an attack. Earlier this year, a California photographer snapped a series of images of a crow riding on the back of a bald eagle. Crow behavior experts believe the crow may have been harassing the bigger bird before simply hopping on for a lift.

If conditioning or survival aren’t behind the rides, then Napier has a simpler idea about why animals ride other animals.

“It seems that they like to have fun just like we do,” he said.

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