A close encounter while diving
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

November 14, 2010

The sky disappears and I’m falling, slowly, gradually. A light blue haze surrounds my vision with my focus on my buddy Justin sinking slowly below me. Then the bottom comes into view, a dark haze in itself and then the sandy bottom.

Ready to Dive

It is my first dive without an instructor, real purpose or skill to do, but one of many I will need on the path towards a dive master accreditation. I check my depth; my rental depth gage is not functioning, great. I signal to Justin and show him. Through a series of gestures we make it clear that we will stay very close, in my head I note to stay above him at all times as he will maintain our depth reading. I tell him to lead and we set out along the left side of the wall at Whyte Cliff Park. Last time I was here, it was a stormy night dive. This is much more relaxing, the current next to zero, we’re in control.

We make our way along the wall where it meets the sea floor past huge aggregations of ochre purple sea stars, Pisaster ochraceus, and then orange and brown ones. They actually are the same species, the lighter color ones likely spending their juvenile life cycle in more exposed areas (Ricketts et al., 1985). As we continue, the bottom drops off at a gradual slant first and then more vertically into darkness. I use the wall for reference as we continue. I can’t help but look into the blackness below and wonder what may lie down 600 ft. The secrets the ocean holds close, shrouded in darkness and pressure.

We pass orange sea pens Ptilosarcus gurneyi, colonies of polyps working together to filter out food particles in the water, and small white nudibranchs, a type of sea slug. It feels good to float along and before I know it, based on our time and air, it is time to swim back. As we move along the wall, Justin makes a move to grab my attention and points off the wall. I see nothing as we hover for a moment, still nothing. We continue on and I cork screw through the water from time to time to check our rear…nothing.

Making it back off the wall onto the sandy bottom we prepare to ascend. Looking up at the surface, we begin our swim upwards towards the twinkling light. Breaking the surface, we’re happy with a solid, safe, and interesting dive. Then a small head appears 15 ft. away looking at us. It is a harbor seal, Phoca vitulina. We sit at the surface quietly watching it. It returns our tranquil gaze with large black eyes adapt for vision in a life, generally shrouded in darkness. Then it goes under. We both look under and there it is swimming towards us. It settles 15 ft. directly below us looking up. It looks roughly 4 ½ feet in length, fat in the belly and I wonder if it is pregnant. It is white in color with grey spots and time seems to stand still as we watch each other.

After a few minutes it starts to slowly undulate up to us, slowly, caustiously. Swimming up to my flipper, I watch as it grasps my flipper with its right flipper, a firm grasp. I am reminded of sitting on my couch back home and watching my boxer want to come onto the couch, slowly placing a single paw onto the cushion and starring at me and expressing her intent before knowing it is allowd to lift herself onto the couch. I watch the seal as it slowly takes its mouth and bites my flipper gently while starring with those huge saucer of black eyes into mine. What is she or he saying? Why? I try and induce as we float with gentle waves coming into shore from a passing BC ferry off in the distance.

Letting go, the seal swims over to Justin repeating the interatction and then once more with me. I feel the same inner joy in this moment that one might feel when starring into the eyes of a beautiful counterpart up close for the first time, an unknown form of communication shared without words. That is probably just it, a hello, a welcome into its home and happy to have you here. I have a bottle I collected from the bottom and in an attempt to further this communication I empty it out at the surface and extend it inverted towards the seal. As I begin to turn it to let the bubbles escape, the seal releases and swims off into the darkness, the transe, the moment in time gone.

Justin and I swim into shore forever facinated by the interaction. Hopfully the first of many encounters to come. 


Ricketts, Edward F., Jack Calvin, Joel W. Hedgpeth, David W. Phillips. Between Pacific Tides.  California: Stanford UP, 1985.

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