Ever wondered how it would be diving with sea lions beneath the surface of the Ocean? Steller Sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) named after Naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller who discovered these large sea lions in 1741 along the coast of Alaska also inhabit the Coast of British Columbia. They can weigh between 550 - 2400 lbs.
My second diving trip to Vancouver Island in November 2016 brought me up close to a colony of maybe 70-80 animals on Hornby Island, just off shore from the tiny community of Buckley Bay, half way up Vancouver Island.
The local dive lodge and operator "Hornby Island Diving" with Rob and Amanda Zielinski as hosts offers an up-and-close-encounter with these curious, intimidating marine mammals from fall to early spring.
Our small group of cold water divers signed in the spacious dive boat that brought us within minutes to a tiny barren islet. The entire rock was covered with noisy and smelly sea lions fighting among each other over tight space and hierarchy.
Rob gave us as some valuable information about how to approach and interact with these swift swimming sea lions. The underwater visibility was good, any approaching sea lion lady could be seen at least from 50 feet away. But once they checked you out the fun begins. Despite the captain's advise not to wear any snorkels during the dive some divers had a snorkel sticking up from the mask, a full on invitation for the sea lions to pull on those tubes resulting in shifting the dive masks or even loosing it.
Each group of female sea lions (the males were too busy maintaining their position top side) came in waves about ten minutes apart. They had to bolt to the surface to catch a breath before they returned to the divers who swam or kneeled at the bottom.
Many of the younger lady sea lions kept their distance and approached the divers cautiously, not knowing how to measure up these air bubble blowing, strange looking intruders. Others were braver and nibbled on any suits, hoses and tanks they could reach including an occasional lifting off a divers neoprene hood. One of our divers experienced a harsh 'nibble' on this hoodie and was left with four bloodshot wounds on this head.
Our captain's second advise to remain calm and to avoid sudden arm or body moves worked for most of the time. The calmer the divers remained and interacted with the sea lions the less they were harassed and nibbled on. But some divers embodied a strong puppy-loving-karma and had to shield themselves from intrusive sea lions. Ian, another underwater photographer attracted at least 6-7 sea lions around him covering this camera and body.
Later in the dive the excitement among the sea lions mellowed and fewer animals returned to the divers for play.
Myself I tried to sneak away from the sea lions and returned to the anchor line to avoid being followed by them. Once I made it to the surface I suddenly felt a brush of whiskers on my cheek. I turned my face and saw a sea lion coming face to face with me giving me a final smooch before I returned back to the boat.
Looking over to the islet most sea lions we interacted with returned to the barren rock just to be confronted by the huge bulls which defended their territory. A cloud of sticky and fishy smell drifted from the sea lion colony.
The tired sea lions finally settled down although the smell and noise remained.