The Australian Museum is setting the record straight on a set of viral photos, widely described as showing two kangaroos "grieving" over a dying female kangaroo. The more likely scenario, the museum said, is that one of the male kangaroos was trying to mate with the female.

In a museum blog post published Thursday, Dr. Mark Elridge said the wildly popular photos, taken in Queensland, Australia, have been misunderstood. 

"There is a story behind the images, but not the anthropomorphised version of true love that has accompanied the images in publications," the blog said.

The initial story that was widely circulated with the photos claimed to show an adult male kangaroo, holding up the head of a dying female kangaroo, as a young joey looked on.


Turns out, the adult male is actually in a state of sexual arousal, the museum said.

"The male is clearly highly stressed and agitated, his forearms are very wet from him licking himself to cool down," Elridge said in the blog post.

"He is also sexually aroused," he added, noting that the kangaroo's penis is "sticking out from behind the scrotum" in the photo.

Furthermore, the male kangaroo is not "propping up" the head of the dying female so she could see her joey before she dies, Elridge said. Instead, the male is trying to get the female to stand up so he can mate with her.

Elridge added that Eastern Grey kangaroos can breed throughout the year, but mating primarily occurs in spring and early summer.

"Great photos of the kangaroos, but I think they are fundamentally misinterpreted," he said.