Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

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dphershman
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Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

Post by dphershman » Sun Jan 20, 2013 10:29 am

This month (January) I had the good luck of going to the Hornby Island Dive Resort for a couple of days of diving with the aim of getting some Sea Lion photos. Its a challenge and a thrill to photograph these fast-moving animals while you’re coping with the adrenaline of dealing with hordes of curious Sea Lions.
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Hornby Island is on east side of Vancouver Island and is a bit drier than other regions. The island is far enough north that it is out of the way of the Fraser River outflow so you can expect tremendous viz just about any time of year. During the winter months a large colony of Steller Sea Lions gather on Norris Rocks, located just south of Hornby Island.
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As our boat pulled up to the south side of the rocks we were greeted by over a hundred Sea Lions that jumped right into the water at our approach and came right up to the side of boat, eagerly anticipating something exciting. In our dive briefing we were told that the Sea Lions we’d encounter would all be juveniles with lots of curiosity and energy to match. Sea Lions don’t have hands, so they will use their mouths to check you out. That means some nips here and there, and they especially love pulling up on your hood. If you find that the Sea Lions are getting a too frantic for your comfort level, just calm your movements and, if possible swim down to a deeper depth.
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One by one, we hopped in and quickly found ourselves swarmed by curious Sea Lions. I wasn’t too concerned as I’d done this dive with these animals a year before and knew what to expect—lots of boisterous swoops and exploratory chomps on various parts of my dive gear. One Sea Lion found my left hand and squeezed fairly hard on it. ‘Not my new dry-glove!’ I thought. But fortunately he didn’t pierce the glove, nor my hand! Another one chomped on my buddy’s thigh pretty hard during our safety stop, hard enough to make her bruise. In contrast, for some reason or another, one fairly large one decided to lie right between the two of us on the bottom for a long period, perfectly happy to join us as if we were his new best friends. The other curious behavior is best described as a ‘hug’, where the animal comes up from behind, wraps its fore-fins around you and squeezes you close. A bit disconcerting, but funny to watch when it happens to someone else. Though sometimes these guys played ‘rough’, I never had the sense that they were being aggressive, they were just treating us like as they do each other. Some were pushy, some were polite. Some were shy, some were gregarious.
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Photographing animals this large and fast isn’t easy. Forget trying to get shots of them while they are flying by you at full speed. But they do at times stop and check you out, often by stopping and staring into the camera’s dome port. Why they do this is a mystery, it may be that they can see their reflection, although whether they recognize their reflection is a question for the animal behaviorists. Typically they approach the camera port, stare at it for a minute or so and will often try to fit the port into their mouth before swimming off.
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For gear, I recommend that you go as wide-angle as you possibly can. For DSLR folks, the best choice is a ‘fisheye’ type lens. My own setup was a ‘full-frame’ Nikon with a 15mm fisheye. For those with fixed lenses a wide-angle adapter is a must. Going wide allows you to photograph the animals close enough to get good color and contrast while still getting the entire animal in the frame. Otherwise, you’ll have to shoot from too great a distance to effectively light up the animal, no matter how big your strobe is. The idea is to minimize the distance to your subject to have as little water as possible between them and your strobes.
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At the end of our Sea Lion weekend we counted up our bruises, scratches and minor bumps. As divers we’re used to seeking out elusive critters that generally want nothing more than to hide in our presence. For this trip, divers were the ones that were the ‘hunted’. We were all chomped on, scratched and rolled, yet everyone agreed we’d all love to come back again next year!
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for more photos see my webpage at http://www.hershmanphoto.com/Underwater-Photography/Cold-Water-Diving/Best-of-Hornby-2013/27639460_jT9Rc9

Dan
Dan Hershman :smt024

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lundysd
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Re: Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

Post by lundysd » Sun Jan 20, 2013 12:19 pm

Great shots Dan! One of my favorite dives of all time was at Sea Lion Rock in Neah Bay -- we had about 20-30 play with us for the entire dive. I'm hoping to hit Hornsby Island later this year to replicate the experience :)

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dlh
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Re: Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

Post by dlh » Sun Jan 20, 2013 6:07 pm

I love diving Hornby Island. Great lodge and the sea lions are always a blast. It looks like you had excellent light and visibility! I've been there a couple times with the sea lions and once in summer (when the sea lions are away) and never had such clear water.

Thanks for sharing!
Dave

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YellowEye
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Re: Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

Post by YellowEye » Sun Jan 20, 2013 8:13 pm

Awesome. Love the last one especially.

Hornby Island, in addition to all the fun sealions, good macro, great lodging, also has some of the coolest underwater topography too.

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Scubie Doo
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Re: Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

Post by Scubie Doo » Sun Jan 20, 2013 8:24 pm

Nice write-up and great pics!

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DiveZen
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Re: Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

Post by DiveZen » Sun Jan 20, 2013 8:30 pm

Great writeup and pics; thanks!

sekhmet
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Re: Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

Post by sekhmet » Sun Jan 20, 2013 8:34 pm

When I was at Hornby we dove Floras wall and it had the most amazing crinoids and was just like a tropical dive with amazing viz. Great diving up there and Amanda and Rob are just the best hosts ever!!! Tiger rockfish everywhere.... nice write up!
"Fish Worship: Is It Wrong?"

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LCF
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Re: Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

Post by LCF » Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:19 pm

One of the top three dives of my life was diving with the California sea lion rookery off Anacapa Island. I wonder if the Hornby puppies would like scooters as much as their southern brethren do?
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dphershman
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Re: Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

Post by dphershman » Mon Jan 21, 2013 7:06 am

LCF wrote:One of the top three dives of my life was diving with the California sea lion rookery off Anacapa Island. I wonder if the Hornby puppies would like scooters as much as their southern brethren do?



Thanks everyone for the comments

I'm sure the Sea Lions would *love* a game of 'tag the diver' on a scooter :)
Dan Hershman :smt024

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Jan K
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Re: Diving with the Sea Lions at Hornby Island

Post by Jan K » Mon Jan 21, 2013 8:40 am

Great story and photos. Thanks for the inside on how to do it, although I don't think it applies to
my local diving . Main ingredient is missing. The sea lions :)

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