In the process of looking through images for an article, I came across this photograph, which I haven't posted or published before. It's an Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) that I met last year.
If you're concerned about the fish-in-distress, don't worry...it survived. Here's the story:
While we were playing together, the sea lion dashed off and zig-zagged around the seabed, occasionally "looking over its shoulder", so to speak, indicating for me to tag along.
Actually, we had been cavorting in the shallows for the better part of an hour by that point, so the sea lion most likely knew I would do my best to keep up, but it sure seemed like he turned back to check on me a few times.
After zipping around for a bit, he slammed on the brakes, shoved his face into a pile of seaweed, executed a pinpoint 180º turn and presented me with a fish...taking obvious pride in his find. I took a few photos, then indicated as best that I could that I didn't need a snack, and I wasn't particularly interested in holding the fish in my mouth.
He must have understood, because he let the fish go and looked at me with a puzzled, somewhat insulted, expression, as if asking: "What is wrong with you?".
Meanwhile, the poor little fish tried to swim (actually...limp) away, but the sea lion would have none of it. He executed a quick flourish and re-captured it, once again presenting the despondent fish to me.
Once again, I deferred.
Once again, he questioned my sanity...as the fish made a desperate, but hopeless, dash for freedom.
Once again, he snagged the (now thoroughly exhausted) fish and offered it to me.
And yes...once again...I indicated "No, I am absolutely not going to chew on the fish, no matter how pretty it is." this time, doing a flourish of my own accentuated by a couple of flips in the water...as an attempt to distract the persistent pinniped.
Fortunately for the fish, my little ruse worked. The ever-curious sea lion spit out the (now completely panicked, hyperventilating) fish, and swam over to check out why I was doing flips in the water.
...then, there was a "Wait a second..." moment (picture light bulb over Elmer Fudd's head), when the sea lion looked at me, looked back at where he'd left the fish, and realised that he'd just been duped.
In far less than the blink of an eye, he was back to where his catch had been, but by then, the little fish had managed to disappear into a morass of seaweed.
The sea lion made a complete mess of the seaweed in an attempt to relocate his prey/ toy, but in the end, he stopped looking and gave me the cold shoulder..until of course, I did a few more flips in the water and he zipped right over to play again.
The point of the story? Somewhere out there is a fish that owes me.