Local photographs battle between tooth and beak

Empire Q&A with sea lion versus octopus photographer Staci Augustus

Posted: Friday, January 15, 2010

On a late December morning walk past the North Douglas boat launch, long-time Juneau resident Staci Augustus spotted something in the water.

A self-proclaimed "magnet for weirdness," Augustus got out her camera and began snapping photos of what turned out to be a battle between tooth and beak, as a sea lion and an octopus flailed for five minutes on the water's surface.

The photos have since spread like wildfire via e-mail throughout the community. And while it's not uncommon for sea lions to eat octopi, photographs depicting it certainly are a rarity.

I talked with Augustus about the photos during a recent phone conversation. Here's what she had to say about the experience:

Lowell: Set the scene, what were the events leading up to the photographs?

Augustus: It was in the North Douglas area, right past the boat launch, just prior to Dec. 25. I go out there a lot during the summer, almost on a daily basis. And in the winter it's nearly every other day.

L: So what happened next?

A: I saw something out in the water. I didn't even know what it was eating at the time. And then, it wasn't until I downloaded the photos that I realized it was an octopus (and a sea lion).

L: How long did this go on? Tell me about it.

A: It was about five minutes. Although to the sea lion, I'm sure, it seemed like quite a while. There was a lot of thrashing around. The sea lion would go down, and then come back up thrashing. At least fifteen or twenty times he went up and down.

L: What did it sound like?

A: I don't recall any sounds.

L: So, there's been some debate about who won. Was it the sea lion?

A: Well, there was a point when he (the sea lion) went under and didn't come back up for a while. Then, there's a couple pictures where you can tell he's eating a tentacle, and in the background there's this, kind of, mass floating. I think the sea lion won.

L: Have you ever seen anything like this before?

A: I have a knack for finding weird stuff. I'm like a magnet for weirdness. The exact same day, there were three humpback whales feeding out near Spuhn Island. Usually in the winter, they are solitary. One time I found a dead eagle floating, but I've lived here a very long time and never seen something like this. It was pretty amazing.

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at abby.lowell@juneauempire.com or 523-2271.



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