A happenstance meeting with a sea lion

Brian Merewitz is a senior Natural Resources Management major and is currently studying abroad in New Zealand.

[Originally posted September 18, 2013]

So here’s a rare mid-week blog post! I started playing touch rugby last week and we got our first win this week, but let’s back up to 9am. Yes, on my day off, I got up at 9am. If that’s not exciting enough, my friend Will and I went scuba diving at Aramoana Mole, about 30 minutes from town where the harbour meets the ocean. I did bring my camera, but forgot my sandwich that I made and left on the counter.

All suited up and going down!

All suited up and going down!



Will is a dive master (the highest certification besides instructor), so I felt comfortable going out alone with him. We went and picked up our gear and headed out and were all dressed and ready to go in the water by 10:30am. It was pretty sunny out, so it was all good. There are 3 wrecks, two of which are dive-able, out there. The water was a brisk 11 (50) degrees, but we were all suited up in a two piece wet suit with boots and a hood! So, I’ll summarize the first 2 dives together. The first two were both on the same wreck, but different areas. I was a little unsure what it would be like after diving the Great Barrier Reef, but it was incredible! Not nearly as many fish (and really no colorful ones), but there is so much stuff growing on the rocks and ship parts. It was covered in nudibranchs, nudibranch eggs, some blue things that I’m not sure what they were, we saw a Conger eel, heaps of starfish of all different sizes and colours, kelp and corals. It was amazing! One part in particular was like a cage, almost, of boat pieces. They were large enough to swim through but it was just poles covered in plants and things all around you! Kind of claustrophobic, but not as bad as kelp forests!

Now, dive three. The infamous one. We were really enjoying the day and it was really nice out, so we went in to the new (and closer) wreck and planned to swim back. I had the camera, so we dropped down, all good. We were swimming around, just as planned, and I was happily taking pictures of the side of the boat. Then it happened. I saw it coming right at me, at full speed, jaws wide open! This sounds unreal, but trust me, it was real. Surreal, but real! No, it was not a shark, though, but enough to scare me. Instead, as I turned my head, maybe 10ft to my left was a full grown sea lion coming straight at me, maybe 20ft underwater. In case you weren’t sure, it was bigger and a faster swimmer than me. And yes, its mouth really was wide open. So, just like you’re taught to do, I panicked! The sea lion quickly shot straight up to the surface then back down, circled me twice, and left. Will is from California and has over 200 dives, so he is kind of familiar to these ferocious creatures, but not me. I yelled, or at least, the best yell you can do with a regulator in your mouth and went straight to the surface and on the rocks. Not sure what that was going to do because sea lions can climb on rocks way faster than me, especially with fins, but I did it. However, he was gone, or so I thought. Will couldn’t find me under water, so he came to the surface, all excited and yelled, “Did you see that sea lion?!” Of course I told him my dramatic story and he had a similar one and then I saw it swim right along the rocks just in front of me, then stop, pick its head out of the water, give me a 5 second stare down, then it was gone. This time for good. It was incredible. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a picture.

After talking to Will, some people on shore, and the folks at the dive shop all said that it’s common for them to come up and play with you. Also, they are very curious, so they will sometimes even put their teeth on you to see what you are, but not actually bite. Guess I know for next time to stay calm and video it–just like you’re taught. Anyway, we went back down and finished our dive and had an incredible time. We also saw Paua, which is an edible, big shellfish, but we it’s illegal to take them with scuba gear on and you need a knife. Moral of the day–I, in fact, CAN survive from 9am-5pm without eating (although I desperately missed my sandwich)!

One of the sea stars

One of the sea stars

Advertisements