A photographer has captured an unprecedented encounter on the Isle of Wight – a grey seal spitting a jet of water at a sea eagle – defensive behaviour never reported before.

The extraordinary event happened in Newtown Creek when birdwatcher Clare Jacobs witnessed a white-tailed eagle swooping towards the water’s surface during a high tide.

As the eagle made its approach, an adult grey seal emerged from the water directly beneath the predator. 

Isle of Wight County Press: A white-tailed eagle swoops towards the water's surface with an adult grey seal directly beneathA white-tailed eagle swoops towards the water's surface with an adult grey seal directly beneath (Image: Clare Jacobs)

Captured on camera, the encounter showed the grey seal initially barking a warning but then resorting to an unprecedented defence tactic – spitting a stream of water directly at the eagle.

Clare said: “I’m always thrilled to catch photos of the eagles. But catching such a rare and never-before-seen interaction made my year!”

Megan Jacobs, Clare’s daughter, is a palaeontologist from the University of Portsmouth and co-author of the study.

She said: “Sightings of grey seals and white-tailed eagles are frequent events now on the Isle of Wight, but interactions between these two species have so far not been reported.

“This is the first record of an interaction between these two top predators and the first report of grey seals using spitting as a means of defence or deterrence against an aerial foe.”

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  Known as flying barn doors, white-tailed eagles – which can grow to a wingspan as large as 2.6m – became extinct on the south coast in 1780, with the last pair bred on Culver Cliff. 

In 2019, Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation began their Isle of Wight reintroduction programme. 

Last year, the partnership reached a major milestone, with the birth of England’s first wild white-tailed eagle chick in over 240 years.