It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Playing with Seals

On Saturday I was diving at Lobos, as part of a BAUE get-together.  I carpooled with Matt, so we figured we'd dive together too.  We ended up picking up a third buddy, Carolina, for the first dive.  The water was super super flat, but the kelp was super thick.  We had heard that the viz had been pretty bad over the past few days.  So we were thinking it would be good to get a bit further out, so the plan was to go to Granite Point.  We were all diving single tanks, so this would mean a pretty long surface kick.  We decided that if the kelp got too annoying, we'd bail and just dive Middle Reef or something.

After a bit of socializing, we headed into the water, which was a pretty high tide.  Ahhh.  We headed out, and after getting not too far outside of the cove, the kelp was annoying thick.  We were definitely further north than the worm patch, but we were further to the east, since we were headed to Granite Point.  We decided to just drop there.  We were somewhere on the east side of middle reef, and as promised, the viz was quite bad.  In the process of trying to get my bearings, we ended up on the west side of middle reef.  We stopped to look for Itchy and Scratchy, and much to my surprise, there was actually a wolf eel in there.  Maybe that should be too much of a surprise, considering how many little wolf eels we've been seeing lately.  We continued on, along the west side of the reef, when right near one of the nudibranch transects (transect 4, as we call it), Carolina signaled us to point out that a harbor seal was zooming around Matt.  It swam around us a bit and then disappeared to the surface.  I got my hero cam out and waited for it to come back, and sure enough, it came back in just a moment.  It seemed really interested in Carolina.  It would swim down, nibble on her fins, hug her, etc., then move on to me or Matt, and then maybe zoom down to a little "cave" at the bottom of the wall (which is, I think, where it was hanging around when we first found it) and then zoom back up to the surface.  And then a minute later, he'd be back to do it all over again.  We hung out in that spot for about 20 minutes, just playing with the seal (and getting video).  It was my best seal encounter yet!

Eventually he disappeared to the surface, and after a minute or so, when he hadn't come back, we decided to continue out along middle reef, though obviously at this point, we weren't going to make it to Granite Point.  Before you know it, we were at the end of middle reef, and it seemed like right there, the viz really opened up.  Since it was so calm, I suggested that we swim in on top of middle reef, since the kelp looked really pretty up there (especially now that the viz had cleared up a bit).  So we went up there, and saw a nice school of blue rockfish hanging out in the kelp, at about 20 feet.  After checking them out for a bit, we continued in and basically just followed the top of the reef in and eventually fell off the side and headed to the sand channel to finish our swim in.  Just a bit north of the worm patch, we passed another, smaller, harbor seal laying on the bottom.  But he had no interest in playing.  In fact, he kind of looked like he was trying to hide from us by being very still, and as soon as he saw that we saw him, he took off.  We swam in past the worm patch; I was hoping to get past all of the kelp before surfacing, and I was pretty much successful with that.  There were still a couple of kelp patches to navigate around on the surface swim in, but not much.

We had lunch during the surface interval, during which some of the other teams appeared from the water.  Matt and I wanted to do another dive, but Carolina decided not to.  I don't think we had a very solid plan for where to go on the dive.  I think we just agreed to hang out in the shallows on the middle reef or Hole in the Wall side of things, and hope to see more seals.  We got sick of the kelp even earlier on this dive, before we'd even made it as far north as the worm patch.  So we dropped and figured we'd head north.  Matt was leading, and I was not sure where we were for quite a while.  I initially thought we were on the west side of the sand channel, but then we encountered some pretty tall structures to our left, which seemed too tall for that area, so I thought we might be on the east side of middle reef.  But it didn't really matter.  We very quickly met a pair of friendly seals.  We played with (and video'd) them a bit, and then continued on.  But we quickly realized that they weren't finished with us.  We had 3 seals following up for at least 30 minutes.  I think at one point there was a fourth one in the mix too.  Usually when I encounter seals underwater, it is one at a time.  It was pretty cool to see more than one though, because in addition to doing really cute things to Matt's fins, they were doing really cute things to eat other.  There was quite a bit of rough play and cat-fighting between the two smaller ones (the third one was quite a bit bigger, maybe the mom?).  They weren't very good at sharing Matt's fins, even though there were two of them :P

At around 40 feet or so, the viz very suddenly opened up, and the water got much bluer.  This was conveniently right around the time that the two seals decided to stage a mid-water smackdown right in front of my camera, all while a third one was chewing on my fins :)  As we got a bit deeper, the seals kind of thinned out.  We still got visited regularly, but I don't think we had a continuous escort (or at least not that we noticed).  We eventually popped out at the end of middle reef, on the east side, and this was the first moment that I was certain of where we'd been the entire dive :P  There was a seal hanging out in the crack on the end of middle reef, that goes all the way through to the west side.  He eventually swam through the crack, out the other side (when Rob saw video of that, he said he was going to swim through it the next time we're there).  We crossed the sand channel over to Hole in the Wall, and swam around the back side of it, to the shallower structures back there.  Eventually I thumbed the dive on being cold.  I think that clear blue water was colder than the murky water.  Right around the sand channel, I felt a sudden chill and just couldn't shake it.  The swim back was uneventful, except for the seal escorts.  This time we made it quite a bit further south and didn't have any kelp to negotiate on the surface swim in.  Once we hit the surface, we were escorted the whole way back to the ramp by a seal!

An awesome day of nice, easy diving.

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