Forget swimming with dolphins, the cool kids are cuddling with elephant seals

You are about to witness the cutest thing to ever cute. Pretty much. Think of it as a Unicorn Chaser to that Tea Party video.

Naturally (because Wednesday is my designated stick-in-the-mud day), I immediately started wondering whether there wasn't something more nefarious going on. Does this elephant seal really just want to snuggle, or is this behavior some sort of thing rabid elephant seals do before they eat you? To find out, I contacted James Wood, Ph.D., director of education at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Cali.

He said context is important. One thing to keep in mind, watching this video, is that we don't know anything about the elephant seal's history. Maybe it's learned that humans will feed it tasty things if it repeats behaviors the humans seem to like, and now has a little racket going. That said, Wood also pointed out that many species of animals play, just for the sake of playing. And enjoying physical contact isn't something unique to humans.

When I was photographing wild manatees in Florida I had no intention of touching them. (There are strict regulations on that—one hand, at the surface.) But these several ton marine mammals would come up to me and roll on their bellies as they passed by—and I quickly learned that if I didn't give them a belly rub, they would go find someone that would. Pretty soon I forgot I was there to take pictures.

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