Encounter with seals

Trip Start Sep 09, 2010
Trip End Sep 24, 2010

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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We left our beautiful ocean-side hotel before 8 this morning and drove to Nanaimo to drop off the rental car. One of the staff there gave us a ride to a dive shop that I had contacted months ago regarding their snorkeling with seals adventure. Sundown Diving was not expecting us though, as I  never actually booked the tour since I didn't have exact dates to give them at that time.

The rental car dropped us off and left us standing outside the doors of the dive shop before 9am. Unfortunately it didn't open until 10 so we decided to walk around downtown Nanaimo looking for a bathing suit for me. The dive shop is very close to the harbour so it seemed like a good place to find a bikini, but it wasn't. Most of the shops were still closed but we could see most of them are restaurants and old lady clothing shops.

We returned to the dive shop and stood outside it with our suitcase for 20 minutes until finally someone arrived to open it up and let us in. I told him my bathing suit dilemma and he suggested I wear my underwear under the wet suit. They had private rooms where I could change so nobody would ever know. It worked for me so we signed up for the snorkeling with seals adventures and wiggled our way into thick full body wet suits. Then the shop owner, Ed, drove us to the harbour where we got on their little dive boat and booted it out to Snake Island, where the seals sunbathe all day.

Ed cut the engine and anchored fairly close to the island but the seals paid little attention. We completed our insulation by adding a hood and gloves before jumping into the water with our snorkel and fins on. Ed recommended where we should swim and warned us not to stand up in the shallow water. The seals don't like it when much more than your head is above water, and we didn't want to upset the seals.

We started by snorkeling around some large rocks several metres from the seals. There were a lot of red starfish and even a couple of the sunburst stars I was hoping to see on our kayak trip. There were small jellyfish floating around too and I definitely got a stinger on my face - the only part of my skin that was exposed. Ed shouted out another warning to us. He pointed at the beach where the seals were lying and I noticed for the first time huge red blobs lying there. It turns out they are massive jellyfish and they are nasty. He told us to avoid them as they would attach themselves to our faces and sting the crap out of us. They didn't seem to bother the seals though.

I started snorkeling closer to the seals. As the water got more and more shallow, I saw more and more of the red jellyfish swimming (do they swim?) in the water between us and the seals. They are even larger under water, with a big flower-like top above their bubble-like red body. I was quite intimidated by them and lost some of my courage. I wanted to have my head above the water so I could look at the seals but I was so scared of bumping into a red jellyfish that I kept ducking my head under the water and searching around me frantically. Eventually I was so shallow that I had to lie my body on the sand to keep it under water. I knew now it was too shallow for the red jellyfish so I relaxed a bit and watched the seals more closely. They where getting a bit excited now. I was only 2 or 3 metres from them. Some of them got nervous and dashed into the water. I kept watching the ones on the beach and crawled along the sand closer and closer. More got nervous and went in the water, or shuffled their fat bodies down the beach. Ed called out to us. I looked behind us and saw the seals swimming very close to us, poking their heads up from the water and taking a good long look at us. It was so cute!

One of the largest seals on the beach was really close to me now, about 1.5 metres away. He (or maybe she) looked quite old, I guess because of his large size and the old scars on his body. He was in no way frightened of me like the others. He shuffled his body a little way off the beach and into the water, so his back end was still above water but the rest of his body was under the water on the sand like mine. We had to be within a metre of each other. We just stared at each other for a few minutes and then he closed his eyes and dozed. After that a couple other seals came closer and checked me out from the beach, but most of the ones who were near me were swimming around us and bobbing their heads above the water to get a good look. I was impressed with their eyesight because the water near the beach was far from clear and yet they knew exactly where to pop up and stare at us after circling around us from the beach.

The experience was amazing but even with all our gear on it still started to get a bit too cold for comfort. We eventually swam back to the boat and Ed pulled us up. I regretted removing my hood because once the boat got moving the wind helped chill me to the bone.

On our way back we passed a small island covered in raccoon. They were scavenging the rocks along the shoreline much like the bear we saw while kayaking.

When we got back to the city I felt like an icicle. We had no towel or anything so I went into the "change room" and tried to drip dry a bit before putting my clothes on. It is difficult getting jeans on over damp skin!

We went back to the dive shop to get our luggage and they offered to drive us to the ferry terminal for $10. The shuttle is $31 so this was a great deal. I guess they had nothing better to do and Ed said he only wanted to charge us a bit to recover the cost of the gas. We were very happy with that. We decided to get some lunch first as our ferry was still a few hours from departure. Ed and the young guy working recommended a Thai restaurant in the area we had walked earlier this morning. We remembered seeing it and found it easily with their directions. It was a good recommendation - the food was delicious! It was also nice to be in a heated environment for an hour to warm up and dry off completely.

We went back to the dive shop and the young guy working there drove us to the ferry terminal. Once he got chatting he didn't stop. The boy certainly had dreams. He was finishing his PADI instructor training and looking for work in Japan. He didn't seem interested in actually working as a PADI instructor though which was a bit weird. It is certainly a job you could do anywhere but I guess he had other experiences on his wish list. He also told us that the cold water diving in Nanaimo was amazing. I have heard this before and I believe it. They have at least two artificial reefs, some ships they sank not far from where we were snorkeling. It sounds really cool and I would like to brave the winter waters here one time to check it out. Maybe on our next trip?

Dad picked us up on the other side. He is the unofficial taxi driver on our tour. We are running out of time, our trip is coming to its end. We had an amazing trip on Vancouver Island and will certainly make the most of our last two days in Canada!
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