Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sea Lions!!!

So the last post was just a preview of today's full report, I've been busy.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go diving with sea lions for the first time ever. It was awesome. No other way to describe it. A group of divers from the shop I patronize (Bubbles Below) makes the trip every year. But, I've been in Florida, so this was the first year I got to go.

This trip is up to Hornby Island, a little island off Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It's a really lovely community, and home of Hornby Island Diving, who were our excellent hosts for the weekend.

The weekend started on Friday. Early in the morning I grabbed my duffel and caught a bus to meet my parents in Lake City. They had my dive gear from a dive we did last weekend. It was super early (6:30 am bus) but we wanted an early start because we were worried about lines at the border. I met them and we headed North for BC. The drive is scenic, but familiar and we made good time. At the border, despite being the opening day of the olympics, no traffic. So on to BC and a series of ferries and drives to Hornby. Really the whole first day was just driving. We made it up in good time and got settled in at the lodge. No dives the first day because weather was crap for evening diving.

Bad weather turned into kind of a theme. Saturday the weather was really bad. The wind was up and the boat couldn't get out so most of the group hung out at the lodge. My dad and I, gung ho crazies that we are, however, wanted a dive, so we opted to dive the lee side of the breakwater in the Harbor! This turned out to be an excellent choice. It is in the harbor, but the breakwater was a huge rock wall in about 30 ft of water, and there was a surprising amount to see, and it gave both of us a chance to play with our cameras.

That last orange blob there is my favorite nudibranch, Rostanga, it could sit on the end of your finger. We hung out, played games, and watched the weather with the other divers for the rest of the afternoon.
In the evening, we decided to go for a night dive, this time joined by fellow diver Jen. It was a good little dive. I saw two octopi, and we even had a drive by sea lion! My first of the trip!

Sunday the weather was brilliant, sunny, calm, and cloud free. The whole crew set off first thing after breakfast for our first official sea lion dive. The location was Norris rocks, a haulout island for a colony of Stellar's sea lions. This dive, however, the sea lions were enjoying the sun as much as we were, so only a few joined us for the dive. This was still cool, and gave the newbies like me time to adjust to being in the water with such a large animal. Here's my mom and I (as photo'd by my dad) just after entering the water:
And some shots of sea lions, as photo'd by my dad. I took only video myself.

It was cool! The second dive of the day wasn't supposed to be a sea lion dive. We went across the bay to a site called Dinner Plate. A really cool series of stepped walls. However,
a few of them decided to join us anyway. My camera lens fogged pretty bad on this dive, so I'm not going to post many photos. I saw some really cool Puget Sound King Crabs (both juvenile and adult) lots of different sea stars, scallops the size of plates, and of course more sea lions! I find sea lions to be a cool distraction, I'm always looking for little inverts, but with them around I was always trying to keep one eye out for them too.

The final dive of Sunday was another sea lion dive at Norris Rocks. This time a few more sea lions were ready for the fun. One came up and kissed my head, otherwise I wasn't really mobbed, but I got some great video. Me with the sea lions.
And some great video. I love it when they blow bubbles.

Monday, before heading back to the U.S. we got one last sea lion dive. This one they were really ready to play! As soon as the boat pulled up 30 or so sea lions dove off the rocks and headed for the boat. As soon as we hit the bottom the first thing I felt was teeth on my head. They get really mouthy when they play! It was so much fun! The tumble all around you, play and show off, come up and nibble on you. On the boat they warn you not to interact to much and this is true. If you start to play back they up the ante and when you are buried in sea lions, this can get really intense. Really the best way to describe it is being in a room with 30 puppies who are all the size of full size great danes and think of you as a beach ball. Really, it is best to act as a beach ball.
I had a lot of fun! See the video in the last post. At the end of my dive, things got intense for me. About 10 sea lions (I am not exaggerating) decided I was their beach ball and started bouncing me around. Unbeknown to me, one of them got my mask strap loose. Shortly afterward one figured out that if it nosed the purge valve on my regulator, it blew bubbles, and thus starting hitting it. This caused my mask to start to leak. I cleared the mask, and as soon as I let go, another sea lion dove in and grabbed it off my face! I made a quick decision to go to the surface, and made a controlled swimming ascent (I was still being used as a beach ball) and headed to the boat. I still had fun, even losing my mask! I'll be back next year for sure!

Thanks Rob and Amanda (Hornby Island Divers) and the Bubbles crew for a Blast!

(And finally a quick disclaimer: This kind of dive is legal, we don't go chasing sea lions, you get in the water, and if they want, they come to you (Frankly there's no stopping them)).


Doug said...

Ah, YOU'RE the one that had her mask stolen. Amanda told me about it a few days ago. She was so concerned that your trip would be wrecked and was very happy that yo had a good time.

Meredith said...

I had a blast, the mask was firmly in the category of "these things happen" and "expect the unexpected" when dealing with wiley animals

Chloe said...

Your pictures and video are great! Thanks for sharing, that sounds like so much fun. I'd love to do that sometime. I already checked out the website.


Kat said...

Wow, stay away from the pointy end!

Kat said...

PS: what kind of games does a nudi play?

Meredith said...

They're really good at that childhood classic "how long can you hold your breath" Also, scrabble, though the tiles tend to float away if not carefully watched.