Swimming with Harbour Seals off Vancouver Island

Mrs K is hitting a rich vein of creative form in her art work, and that’s best supported by me taking my leave of the apartment, so she has some peace and quiet.  My favourite time-out is to walk down to the marina, and just watch the waves and boats, read a book, and wander around the high street.

The second time I did this, my harbourside reverie was sharply interrupted by an almighty splash.  It sounded like a large rock had been lobbed into the shallows.  I just thought it was local kids mucking about, but I was intrigued when it happened a second time.  A few people, both on boats, and the marina were all looking in a similar direction, so I followed their gaze.

To my amazement, two small Orcas (‘Killer Whales’) were splashing their torsel fins down hard on the surface of the water, metres from the yachts.  I was later told this could be a fishing technique or them just playing.  So I watched this for the 2 short minutes, until they swam away and dissappeared.  Quite a memory.  I felt an immediate need to do something, anything, to get myself closer to the maritime wildlife.  This trip is after all partly to gain new life experiences.

As luck would have it I noticed the office of  ‘Big Animal Encounters’ was directly behind me so I enquired about their Whale watching.  They also had space on their upcoming ‘snorkelling with seals’, from which I have just returned.

We cruised out to Hornby Island, about 45mins from nearby Comox, on a nice fast comfortable boat.  The weather on the north side was far too harsh so we stayed in the protected south side passage. At a easterly tip, we passed a group of seals sunning themselves on a rocky outcrop. Photos were frantically taken. Further around was our anchor point.  So we donned our wetsuits, fins and masks and jumped in.

I was in a group of 6 snorkellers.   I decided to go alone to try to appear to be less of a threat to the seals themselves; maybe I’d get lucky.  I swam, ungaily as I was unused to flippers, behind another outcrop into the shallows, then out into deeper water. And waited.  And waited.  We were told to be still and quiet.

I was getting pretty cold even with a wetsuit and the hot sun on my back.  After what seemed like half an hour of staring down into deep waters I felt the wake of a motor boat and the water went down my snorkel.  I had to sort that out, so I raised my head and took off my mask.   I was at this time thinking “Maybe I should find where the other snorkellers are and make my way to them..”

To my astonishment, as I looked around, there were over 30 seals, heads above water, looking at me, bobbing up and down like me in the wake.  About fifteen feet away and stationary.  The way they held their heads reminded me of (aquatic) meerkats; inquisitive, slightly comedic and tentatively friendly.  It was clear that I was an amusement to them, and I was importantly not a threat.

After a pause, I slowly moved towards them.  At that, some swam away, perhaps due to nerves or to find more interesting artefacts, but a good handful came up and swam around me.  One playful individual would ‘hover’ below me upside down.  I could swear he/she was clapping her fins at me.  Then regrettably the others in my group spotted my luck and swam over to join in which scared them all off…

It was, without a doubt, an amazing experience;  and one I had to write down immediately.

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