Nanaimo woman captures video of ‘life and death’ battle between sea lion, octopus

Nanaimo woman captures video of 'life and death' battle between sea lion, octopus
Screenshot: Lindsay Bryant/YouTube

A Vancouver Island woman’s video showing the intense moments a Steller sea lion battled it out with an octopus in waters off Nanaimo is getting a lot of attention online.

“Surprisingly, actually,” said Lindsay Bryant, who captured the video from shore around noon last Thursday, Nov. 16, in south Nanaimo. She says it was her first time witnessing such an incident and, in awe, her first time seeing an octopus in person.

“People are amazed by it,” Bryant told CHEK News. “I am, as well, to capture something rare on video. It’s been pretty cool to be able to share it.”

She uploaded the video to YouTube, where it surpassed 100,000 views in just days.

“I’m intrigued by that. Why is it so interesting?” said Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia.

“I’m pleased to hear that other people find this kind of event interesting.”

‘Battle between life and death’

The video, about 3:30 minutes long, shows the sea lion swinging the octopus around in the Nanaimo waters, trying to rip off its tentacles, explains Trites.

“It’s a battle between life and death,” he said.

“A sea lion cannot chew its food; it needs to swallow its food whole. Unlike you and I, we chew our food up. For a sea lion, though, it has to swallow it whole. So, as you’re swallowing it, there are eight arms grabbing onto the outside of your face. In the process, you’re going to suffocate.”

So, what does the sea lion do?

“It grabs onto one massive tentacle and it swings it around, trying to rip it off,” said Trites. “It’s flinging it in order to sheer it and tear the arm off the octopus. It can swallow that then go after arm number seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.”

But the octopus gets defensive.

It has an “amazingly strong beak, maybe like a parrot or a sea turtle, and it can do enormous damage,” added Trites. “So it’s going to be biting and trying to save its own life.”

Octopus: ‘one of those delicacies’

Bryant sums it up as a difficult catch for the sea lion and, after rewatching her video, “clearly a battle” between the two animals. But it’s worthwhile for the sea lion because an octopus is “one of those delicacies,” noted Trites.

“Maybe people who have eaten octopus can probably understand why a sea lion would be drawn to it. It’s part of their normal diet,” he said, adding that sea lion fecal samples have proved this to be true.

He says they bring bigger prey, like octopuses, to the surface because that way, they have more torque with their necks to break off pieces to eat.

“Sometimes, that gives the mistaken impression that all sea lions eat are great big fish. No, that’s all you get to see. Most of what they eat is much smaller,” he said.

Bryant, a nature aficionado, says her video is something she’ll cherish.

“I’m down there all the time. I swim a few times a week in the colder months. I spend a ton of time by the water and out in nature,” she said. “I love hiking and paddleboarding a lot.”

And for Trites, it’s a video showing another encounter he can marvel over.

“I remember once we were in southeast Alaska, and we were with a group diving. One of the divers came up with a giant octopus completely covering his head, and he could not get it off,” he recalled.

“It took three other people to pry this Giant Pacific octopus off him.”

In August, divers got an up-close look at a Pacific octopus at Ogden Point in Victoria, and in December 2022 an octopus encounter in Alberni Inlet was captured on video, mesmerizing millions.

Watch Bryant’s video below:

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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