Dudko reportedly told them he's taken to "surf[ing] the seafloor" from
his home in Donetsk, an eastern Ukrainian industrial hub, since becoming
interested in marine biology months ago.
"Kirill wrote an e-mail to the address at the official site and asked
the scientists what the animal was that had a hagfish for dinner and
provided a link to the recordings on YouTube," the boy's mother,
Svitlana, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "To our great surprise, we
actually received an answer the next day. Experts at Neptune Canada also
sent an inquiry to scientists in the U.S. Kirill was in touch with
them for a week, and when it became clear what animal it was, he was
CBCNews also chronicled Dudko's key role in the exciting find:
Researcher Kim Juniper says an email from the teen in Donetsk, Ukraine, caused a flurry of excitement.
"Monday morning we had an email from him saying, 'I saw something
strange and weird. Some monster just ate a fish in front of me. What was
it?' And that sent all of us into a bit of a flurry to back this up."
Juniper says it's the first time a seal has ever been recorded eating a
hagfish, a creature so slimy other predators spit them out.
Kirill Dudko, 14, was watching a live stream of cameras on the ocean floor off Victoria from his home in the Ukraine. (CBC).
Dudko doesn't speak much English, and he was up past his bed time on a
school night to explain the story with help from his mother Svetlana.
"I'm very proud of my son," she told CBC News.
In addition to the scientific community and casual wildlife fans,
Dudko's sharp-eyed feat has also been picked up on social media by
groups that range from educational innovators (@EducInnovations) to
institutions hoping to encourage the study of Ukrainian as a second
language in Canada (@ULEC_CIUS).
A congratulatory tweet from @MeganCytron asked: "This story makes me so
happy. Shouldn't all children--really all people--be citizen scientists
like Kirill Dudko[?]"
With obvious obstacles to the direct observation of such deep-diving
predators, scientists have long relied on the stomach contents from dead
animals to learn about their eating habits.
Elephant seals are thought to be the deepest-diving of the pinnipeds
(seals and sea lions). They dive to depths of around a kilometer and a
half (one southern elephant seal was recorded venturing to nearly 2,400
meters) -- well into what's dubbed the ocean's "Midnight Zone" because
of the absence of light -- and can hold their breath for more than an
hour and a half.
They are probably best known to most people for the much bulkier males'
signature proboscises and their titanic and bloody battles in the surf
for breeding rights with females.
The prey in this case was a hagfish, a jawless fish that has been around
in a virtually unchanged state for 300 million years. This fish is also
notable for its defense mechanism, secreting prodigious amounts of foul slime that expands when it touches seawater. (Here's an explainer of hagfish slime at work against a shark.)