Steller sea lions love British Columbia. They pass these early spring days by sunbathing on the rocks off Vancouver Island, enjoying nothing more than dipping in and out the ocean to cool off… and saying hello to the local scuba divers!
Scuba diving with sea lions is an incredible experience, an animal encounter like no other. You can’t wonder into the middle of a pack of buffalo on the Serengeti plains. But off Vancouver Island, you can get up close and personal with steller sea lions.
Named after naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, who first described them in 1741, the steller sea lion is the largest of the eared seals. Females weigh around 500-700lbs, where as the larger males can reach a whopping 1000lbs, and have even been known to reach an incredible 2000lbs!
Males have broader, higher foreheads, flatter snouts and darker, tuftier hair around there large necks. Indeed, their Latin name translates roughly as “maned one with the broad forehead”.
Steller sea lion were hunted for meat and other commodities by prehistoric communities everywhere their range intersected with human communities. Aside from food and clothing, their skin was notably used to cover baidarkas and kayaks. A harvest to the order of 300 animals or less continues to this day in some native communities in Alaska.
Historically, the sea lion has had only very slight commercial value. For example, in the 19th century, their whiskers sold for a penny apiece for use as tobacco-pipe cleaners.
When diving with steller sea lions it is incredibly important to be fully aware that you are in their habitat, their environment, a tourist in their town. Steller sea lion dives are incredibly good fun, not because you’re there to see them, but because they want to see you. There as inquisitive, or more so, of us than we are of them. They will rush towards divers as an intimidating heard, before diving beneath you at the last second.
Upon descending and reaching a depth of about 20-30 feet, you’ll see the sea lions come to you. Darting out of the emerald green water at warp speed, turning at the last split second and disappearing behind you without a trace. But they’re still there, hovering vertically above your head, laughing at you as you clumsily turn trying to find them.
They’ll whiz past again, this time closer, blowing bubbles, and politely slapping you in the face with a fin to check your alive. They come nose to nose with you, staring at you with their Walt Disney styled puppy dog eyes, and in that second, connecting with you in a way that very few people on this earth will ever get to do.
Scuba diving with sea lions in British Columbia can be a little intimidating. However, Pacific Pro Dive & Marine Adventures have years and years of experience in these waters, and know exactly where, and when to put divers, or snorkellers in the water.
If you’re new to diving, Vivian Rocks or Mitlenatch Island off the coast of Northern Vancouver Island are great places to see sea lions from a longer, calmer distance underwater. If you’re experienced and respectful enough, you may get to dive Norris Rocks, where the above video was shot, and where the sea lions are more interactive.
Divers should be aware that sea lions love dangly bits. SMBs, hoses, spares masks, cameras, lights, compasses… make sure anything that can be grabbed is safely tucked away. If they can bite it, they will! This includes you. Yes, they will bite you too. Not in a bad way, but in the same way a playful puppy dog would mouth at you whilst playing. As you can see from the video above, sea lion diving can be a very, er, bitey, experience. Just remain calm and enjoy it. When you feel the time has come to surface, safely ascend, but don’t be too quick to get back on the boat, the surface can be just as exciting as underwater – the sea lions will be swarming around you and showing off their superior swimming skills.
Underwater camera peeps must also be careful, sea lions have been know to bite, and mark dome ports. So think twice, or take a GoPro.
Scuba diving with sea lions in British Columbia is an experience second to none. It’s way up there on the bucket dive list, the list of life experiences, and an animal interaction that most will never get to understand.
There simply is no better way to learn about these magnificent animals than to swim alongside them. One dive with a sea lion will teach any human more about their habitat, lives and existence than any text book or documentary. To come nose to nose with a 1000lb sea creature and know he means to cause you no harm, will give you more respect for the ocean and it’s inhabitants than any museum or lecture. These encounters may well boost tourism, but much more importantly, they boost our collective understanding of this planets life, and what we can do to ensure their survival.
Pacific Pro Dive & Marine Adventures runs two boats from Northern Vancouver Island – a high speed zodiac, and a purpose built dive boat. Both vessels are fantastic for sea lion diving, sea lion snorkel tours or sightseeing marine adventures. So even if you don’t want to swim with the sea lions, there’s really no reason not go and say hello!
Call us for more trip information: 250 338 6829