Great Expectorations : A camera focused on a rare eagle captures the spitting image of a seal.

ON Jan 3, 2022, Clare Jacobs, a bird-watcher, was delighted to spot a rare white-tailed eagle at a nature reserve in southern England. These birds vanished from the region 250 years ago, but more than two dozen birds have been released on the island since 2019.

Mrs. Jacobs trained her camera on the eagle when she noticed something moving in the water below it :  a grey seal. The large mammal popped out of the waves and opened its mouth.

Then the seal spat a stream of water at the raptor. Although Mrs. Jacobs didn't realize it immediately, this was highly unusual. Seals had never been seen spitting before, and reports of interactions between these two apex predators are essentially nonexistent.

Mrs. Jacob's photos made their way to her daughter, Megan Jacobs, a doctoral student at the University of Portsmouth, and David Martill, a lecturer at the school. 

Together, they published the observation in the journal in the  Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society. The authors reason that the seal most likely was trying to deter a potential competitor for a meal of fish.

Sean Twiss, a professor at Durham University who studies grey seals, has never seen one spitting. He thinks it's possible that the seal aimed to deter the eagle, or that it was just being playful.

The finding makes grey seals one of the few species known to spit. Some of the most famous members of this coterie include cobras, which can shoot venom from their fangs into the eyes of would-be predators.

Perhaps the most impressive spitters are archerfish, which knock insects and arthropods off leaves using jets of water. [ Douglas Main ]


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