Have you ever wished you could talk to animals? None of us have found a way to become Doctor Dolittle, but that didn’t bother Gary Grayson. The videographer was perfectly content to simply film them, whether on land or in water.
He was thrilled to film one wild beast off the British coast, but Gary never expected the animal to react so strongly towards him. Soon, though, it became clear that critter was trying to tell Gary something — and it urgently needed the filmmaker to listen…
Videographer Gary Grayson had already seen his share of underwater expeditions. The Brit knew better than anyone that when you broke through the surface of the ocean, it was almost as if you were breaking through the barrier between worlds.
Mercury Press / Nigel Wade
In 2014, Gary and one of his pals set out on an expedition with a scuba group called Dive Life. Both men had gone on more dives than they could count, so neither expected this trip to change their views of the ocean forever.
A boat brought the adventurers to the coast of the Isles of Scilly, located to the southwest of England. It was a great spot to explore, as the island’s warmer temperatures attracted a wide array of flora and fauna.
Naturally, Gary and his chum weren’t going to make the plunge without packing at least some of their video equipment. They would absolutely kick themselves if they came across a once-in-a-lifetime sight and forgot to record it.
Strapping on his fins and mask, Gary plopped into the water and surveyed his surroundings. Most of the group headed off together, but the two videographers chose to peel off in a different direction. It paid off — something caught Gary’s eye.
Down in the cracks between two rocks, a curious seal poked his head up. He clearly looked intrigued by these human visitors, but made no move to swim out from his hiding place.
Still, Gary hoped that he could get near enough to see the seal up-close. After all, these animals had a reputation for being especially playful with each other. But, he wondered, how would they react to a completely different species?
Flickr / Ella Garnett
Before Gary and his friend even had a chance to think up a plan, however, the seal came out of the rocks on its own! He was staring straight at the divers, almost as if he was welcoming them — or feeling threatened.
Either way, Gary felt willing to risk getting up close and personal. Besides, he’d gotten within biting distance of sharks and other underwater beasts in the past. He figured that if they hadn’t attacked him, neither would a seal.
Gary swam closer to the animal and tried to make it as clear as possible he meant no harm. Of course, that’s easier said than done when you can’t speak and are covered in scary diving equipment.
Amazingly, Gary’s nice guy act worked like a charm! The seal came face-to-face with him and sniffed the surrounding water. Gary’s captivated friend started rolling the camera to capture the rare interaction.
However, the amiable greeting took a sudden turn. The seal grabbed Gary’s right hand — not too roughly, thankfully — and pulled the human down toward him. One instinct told Gary to pull away and get out of there, but he waited to see what would happen.
Soon enough, any fears about a serious seal bite vanished. Instead of tearing at his arm, the seal simply moved Gary’s hand down toward his abdomen. Did this wild animal really want a…belly rub?
That’s exactly what he was after! The seal twirled and rotated through the water so Gary could pet him at every angle. Even for all his nautical expertise, the diver had never heard of a seal acting like this.
As a matter of fact, he appeared to be acting more like a dog than a sea mammal! Gary could only figure that the entire animal kingdom loved getting their bellies scratched. That much was universal.
Unfortunately, Gary knew he couldn’t stay down there with his new seal pal forever. He and the other videographer rose back up to the surface and excitedly described their encounter to the other divers.
There’s no doubt that the seal would also treasure the meeting forever. Who knows — maybe he would seek out more human friends in the future. The seal, incredibly, wouldn’t be alone in that endeavor.
See, at first, National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen was shaken when he was asked to dive with wild leopard seals. That’s because, well, they’re terrifying.
The leopard seal, also known as the sea leopard, is absolutely huge. They can grow to 10 feet in length and weigh as much as 1,300 pounds! The only pinnipeds bigger are elephant seals and walruses.
Still, he was a seasoned photographer, so years of experience told him you can never be too careful around a wild animal. He recounted his first —oddly friendly — encounter with the sea leopards…
“I slipped into the water, terrified of what might happen, and I swam up to this leopard seal,” Paul said. “My legs were shaking, I had dry mouth…” And then?
“She took my whole head and my camera inside her mouth and did this threat display,” Paul recalled. “But then the most amazing thing happened.”
“She went off and got me a live penguin,” Paul said. “And she came up and started to feed me a penguin.” Paul stared in awe as this massive seal approached him with what was some kind of offering.
“And right away she dropped the penguin. She came up to me and she opened her mouth,” Paul said, knowing the sea leopard could’ve snatched his camera if she wanted. “Her head is twice as wide as a grizzly bear’s the head. Just huge.”
Paul said, “She kept letting these live penguins go and the penguin would shoot past me and she’d look disgusted as she’d go by me. She did this over and over…” It was almost as if she was annoyed Paul was allowing the penguins to get away.
“She started to bring me weak penguins, then dead penguins, then she showed me how to eat penguins,” Paul said. “She would offer me partially consumed penguins.” Was she trying to be his mother?
“She started to take penguins and actually push them into my camera. I think she thought the camera was my mouth, which is every photographer’s dream. This went on for four days.”
Paul continued, “And then I think she realized that I was this useless predator in her ocean, probably going to starve to death and I think she became quite panicked.”
The experience was one he’d never forget. “So, here I came to Antarctica, to photograph this potentially vicious animal,” he said, “to have this predator, this top predator in Antarctica, take care of me, and nurture me, and feed me for four days straight.”
“It was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had as a National Geographic photographer,” said Paul. The iconic magazine has allowed other incredible photographers like Paul to chase amazing shots. Just look at these incredible photos…
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National Geographic / Bartłomiej Jurecki
Best Friends (Soldotna, Alaska): Bear cubs are known for their high energy and love for play, but it seems these little guys seen in Lake Clark National Park would rather kick back, relax, and munch on a little grass. Hopefully, the photographer didn’t mistake the cubs for two cuddly teddy bears and try to take them home!
National Geographic / HEATHER NICOLE
Jute Worker (Dhaka, Bangladesh): At first glance, this man appears to be holding the Guinness World Record for the thickest and fluffiest hairdo. But sorry big hair fans: this man is simply lugging a bale of jute, a fibrous plant material used for making rope.
National Geographic / Zakir Hossain Chowdhury
Baby Teeth (Tanzania, Africa): Raising kids sure can be a hassle, especially when they start getting bored of the same old games. Luckily, this mama lion of the Serengeti knew exactly what to do when her cubs needed a new chew toy.
National Geographic / Yaron Schmid
Unreal (Mojave Desert, California): It’s amazing that this graveyard of Volkswagens and Audis in California actually exists. Following an international scandal concerning inaccurate emissions reports, thousands of vehicles were recalled and dumped in the middle of the desert.
National Geographic / Jassen Todorov
Embearassed (Brooke Falls, Alaska): In the midst of fishing during a salmon run, this overeager bear lunged a little too soon and took a tumble down a tiny slope. Thankfully unharmed, he climbed back on the ledge and continued to fish after his fall!
National Geographic /Taylor Thomas Albright
The Shepherd from Transylvania (Bran Village, Romania): It turns out that vampires aren’t the only thing that comes from Transylvania. As you can see, Nea DAN, a Carpathian shepherd in the Bran village region, has plenty of sheep – and wool – to go around.
National Geographic / Eduard Gutescu
Hungry Hungry Hippos (Tanzania, Africa): While you probably won’t find any white marbles here, you can bet these hippos are still in the mood for a feeding frenzy. Luckily, no one has to risk a hand cramp from slamming down on a bunch of little levers.
National Geographic / Martin Sanchez
An Overcrowded Train Journey (Dhaka, Bangladesh): There may not have been enough seats on this train heading for Dhaka, where passengers hoped to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr with their loved ones, but there was plenty of room on the roof!
National Geographic / Noor Ahmed Gelal
Enduring Spirit (Garinder, Montana): The American Bison has long been considered a symbol of strength and perseverance, and this photo of a lone one in winter perfectly encapsulates these sentiments. Despite the -15-degree weather and heavy snowfall, this bison confidently treks on.
National Geographic / Derek Jerrell
Inquisitive Eyes (Indonesia): A tribal girl’s curiosity is on full display as she stares into the unusual object being pointed at her by the photographer. Is she perhaps imagining the other strange wonders that may lie just beyond the boundaries of her village?
National Geographic / Sanghamitra Sarkar
Halfway Home (Lindi, Tanzania): This photo of an elephant half stained by river water was snapped at the halfway point of her journey back to the rest of the herd. The perfect metaphor, wouldn’t you agree?
National Geographic / Cameron Black
Aigerim – The Eagle Huntress (Chirhertey, Bayan-Oelgiy, Mongolia): While the tradition of eagle hunting is usually passed down to young men, Aigerim, a young huntress from the Altai Mountain, has proven that women can fly eagles just as well as their hunter counterparts.
National Geographic / Diana Ishii
Snowflakes (Biei-cho, Hokkaido, Japan): This photo was taken at Blue Pond in Japan, but something about this scene is eerily reminiscent of the forest from A Nightmare Before Christmas. The pond — frozen over in the winter time — was man made to prevent nearby Mount Tokachi from polluting a river.
National Geographic / Rucca Y Ito
Night Statics (Colima, Mexico): It’s one thing to catch an erupting volcano on film, but perfectly capturing the moment when the cold winter air created a static storm around the lava plume is what makes this photo seem truly divine.
National Geographic/ HERNANDO ALONSO RIVERA CERVANTES
Uhhs & Ahhs (Anliao, Calabarzon, Philippines): Things looked pretty bleak for this little grouper, but shortly after this photo was taken it managed to wriggle itself free from the lizard fish’s mouth. Unfortunately, the young fish’s relief was short-lived, as a passing snapper quickly gobbled him up.
National Geographic / Lilian Koh
Flying At The Crossing (Tanzania): No, this isn’t a portrait painted by some master artist: it’s just a simple photo of a herd of wildebeests crossing the Mara River. The layering of dust, sun, and shade gives the image an almost unnatural look, and you might have to look a bit longer just to convince yourself it’s real.
National Geographic / Pim Volkers
Spa Time! (Africa): The best way to cool down during a summer heat wave? Why a dust bath of course! Coating themselves in the dirt is the best way for elephants to stay cool, and this practice also serves to keep mosquitoes at bay.
National Geographic / Nilesh Shah
An Astonishing Chase (Rift Valley, Kenya): This chase actually has a happy ending. Instead of preying upon the gazelle fawn, the cheetah actually started playing with the young deer before setting it free to return to its mother. “Even the animals value the life of other animals,” the photographer wrote.
National Geographic / Thomas Vijayan
Mid Shed (Unknown): Anyone in the mood for chameleon chips? Unlike their snake relatives, these tiny reptiles shed their skin in bits as opposed to one long piece. The photographer wanted his picture to capture just how vulnerable a shedding chameleon is.
National Geographic / Mike Dexter