The latest inspirational depiction of animals getting along is, alas, not what it seems. This picture of a beluga whale hugging a fur seal has gained massive traction on Reddit and social media overnight, but it’s quite literally too good to be true.
Not only are whales and seals not prone to spontaneous hugging, the two animals in the image couldn’t even realistically occupy the same ocean.
As marine biologist Robert Harcourt from Macquarie University explained to ScienceAlert in an email, the two animal species pictured actually reside on opposite sides of our planet.
“The fur seal looks like an Arctocephalus species – they are exclusively Southern Hemisphere,” says Harcourt.
Meanwhile beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) hang out in the Arctic and subarctic waters in the Northern Hemisphere.
There are literally no fur seals where belugas are from. All seals living in the Arctic belong to the earless seal family, Phocidae, also known as ‘true seals’.
“Beluga and many true seals co-occur,” says Harcourt.
“They might feed on the same prey at the same time but interactions would be limited to that or maybe swimming alongside each other – certainly not ‘hugging’.”
So, the only way you could get a fur seal and a beluga in the same waters is either by putting them in an aquarium, or with clever use of image editing, as in this case.
Many of the posters sharing the picture claim it’s a photo, but it’s actually digital artwork by award-winning Ukrainian artist Elena Vizerskaya whose forte is surreal, dreamlike photography and photo-manipulation.
She may have been inspired by the friendly reputation beluga whales have, most likely due to their highly social nature and ‘smiling’ faces. They are among the smallest whale species and unfortunately are a popular target for the aquarium industry.
But even if you’re lucky enough to see a beluga frolicking in the wild, chances that it would actually embrace another animal such as a seal are extremely slim.
But don’t get mad at the artist for creating this realistic-looking picture, because we don’t think she was trying to pass this off as legitimate wildlife photography. Some Reddit users cottoned onto this pretty quickly, because the artwork is licensed royalty-free via the ‘Creative’ section of Getty Images.
Snopes.com reached out to her after the post blew up on Reddit, and Vizerskaya’s business partner confirmed that what we’re seeing is just really good fruit of the imagination:
“It’s a composited digital image – the seal and beluga whale didn’t really hug each other in real life, but they did that in Elena’s heart and imagination.”