A photographer captured video of a sea lion playing fetch alongside a dog at the beach

Ever notice that dogs and seals or sea lions seem to have a lot in common? Cute, whiskery faces. Sweet, intelligent eyes. The same playful spirit.

It’s probably no surprise, then, that a dog owner recently captured video of one of these marine mammals attempting to play a game of fetch with him and his dog. It’s even less surprising that the cute clip went viral, with more than 2 million views to date.

The scene: A beach in Santa Cruz, California. The players: A bouncy, Labrador-looking dog, a curious wild interloper and Dave “Nelly” Nelson, a noted surf photographer.

The pinniped, or carnivorous aquatic mammal — which appears to be a California sea lion rather than a seal, as noted in the original Twitter post and news outlets that have picked up the story — watches from the waves while the dog excitedly keeps an eye on the ball. The animal gets closer and closer, seemingly intrigued by this new game, and almost comes right up onto the beach.

Sea lions on beach
Adobe

At last, the man launches the ball down the shoreline and into the water. The sea lion makes the classic “arf-arf” barking sound and takes off toward the ball. The dog gets to the toy first, but just barely — the pup grabs it and runs back to his owner, who exclaims, “Wow!”

It’s a short tale, but it says a lot. The pup is so focused on playing fetch that he seems oblivious to the seal. The sea lion is entranced by the ball and appears to know that it’s fun to chase. The creature even shows off a “porpoising” behavior common to sea lions, seals and dolphins.

See the viral video for yourself:

It’s so cute! But not a great habit to get in, for the dog or for the sea lion. Would the pinniped bring the ball back if he caught it? Would it fight the dog for the ball?

Most experts say keeping seals, sea lions and dogs away from each other is the best thing to do, if it’s possible. Seals or sea lions may very well be interested in dogs, as they are curious creatures, but interactions may not always be as positive as this one. Moreover, some actions may be illegal if they are construed as harassing protected sea life.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says, “We do not support, condone, approve, or authorize activities that involve closely approaching, interacting, or attempting to interact with whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and sea turtles in the wild.” It recommends staying 50 yards away and keeping dogs on-leash “to prevent bites to the dog and the seals or sea lions.” Dogs and seals or sea lions are also distantly related and can pass diseases to one another.

Fortunately, this encounter turned out fine for everybody. Just don’t try it at home!