Adorable Oregon Zoo sea lion photo goes viral

Three-year-old Emily wanted to give the sea lion at the Oregon Zoo a hug.

Mom Emerald Magbaleta snapped an iPhone photo of the adorable moment, displayed it on her Instagram page and then submitted it to the social media site

The photo got a lot of love: It won a first place award in a contest put on by, the popular Instagram web viewer site. And since the site put it on its own Instagram feed on Jan. 20, the photo has received more than 15,000 likes.

The Portland resident said she's been overwhelmed at the feedback. "I think it's amazing," Magbaleta said.

So how is such a viral photo made?

The picture itself was taken Sept. 25 when Magbaleta took her daughter to the zoo for her birthday. When they toured the sea lion tank, Magbaleta noticed one of the lions was paying extra attention to her daughter.

"I told her, 'It looks like he's giving you a birthday hug. Give him a hug back,'" she said.

It was that easy. When Magbaleta learned of's contest several months later - which had a theme of taking a photo of pairs - she submitted the shot.

And that is how cute is made.