Best Marine Life Encounter: That's Seals

Posted on March 5th 2013

During a break from open water studies, a scuba diving student of mine asked me what was the most enjoyable marine life encounter.

The young man had spied on the dive centre noticeboard an article I'd written on diving with bull sharks off the coast of Mexico and had assumed that was it. You could see it writ across his face. "Sharks, whoaaa!!!!!!"

He was a bit dumb-struck by my response. "That would be seals."

I've been lucky enough to share the water with some amazing species; whale sharks, oceanic white tips and a tiger shark in the Red Sea; the aforementioned bulls in Mexico; manta rays in the Maldives; turtles pretty much anywhere.

Don't get my wrong, I've invariably been left stunned by the privilege.

However, you don't necessarily spend time with them; you're more a observer siting on the sidelines. That in itself is a huge honour; it provides some tantalising clues to their behaviour - I still wonder what the two manta rays were doing as they mirrored each others loop-the-loops, briefly touching when their paths brought them together.

However, diving with seals are different. You're not so much a watcher as an active participant in their play. Well the target of their play is more accurate.

The young pups will think nothing of rubbing their nose in the port of an underwater camera leaving a nice wet smudge behind; they will actively blow bubbles, swoop around and nibble the fins of passing divers.

Many times I've felt a tug on my leg only to turn round and see a young seal looking coyly back at me with a sly smile on his face as if to say "What?".

As long as you take it for what it is - they are choosing to play with you, they are the dominant partner in the game and they will choose when to end it - then it is a thrilling underwater experience.

"Where did you do this?" asked my student, excitedly, probably expecting me to send him off to some exotic, far-flung destination.

"The Farne Islands, off the north coast of England," came my reply.

As well as being the most famous Sea Bird Sanctuary in the British Isles the islands are also home to large colonies of Atlantic or Grey Seals, some three to four thousand strong and one of the most important in Europe.

Resident throughout the year, an estimated 1,000 pups are born each year in late October and November. By the following summer, these are the ones eager to play.

So if ever you wanted a genuine reason to go diving of the coast of the UK - let's be honest most people expect it to be cold, murky and devoid of anything remotely interesting - it is the seals of the Farnes.

 It promises to be one of, if not the best marine encounter you will most likely ever have.

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