Steller Sea Lions

In Life Is Short, Pep Talks, The Life Creative by David20 Comments


In the Salish Sea, the wild green waters of the Strait of Georgia, between British Columbia’s west coast and Vancouver Island, there’s an island that takes a couple ferries to get to. The water is full of life upon life and is the winter home to Steller Sea Lions who will winter there and feed on the spring herring run.  I have tried a couple times now to dive with these sea lions, both here and closer to my home in Victoria, only to be defeated by their absence. It almost happened again this time.

Good friends and I piled our dive gear into our Jeeps and drove north, heading up-island about 3 hours, through torrential down-pours and gusting winds on Friday night. The forecast already told us the chance of diving on Saturday was slim. The optimists among us were sure it would pass. It didn’t. We spent Saturday with each other, drank some wine, told stories, planned future dive trips, and looked nervously out the windows once in a while at the storm gaining speed and fury.

On Sunday morning there was a bit of a break, but still rough out. A couple of us dove the house reef not far from shore, and spent a few minutes with some passing sea lions, curious to see what we were all about before moving on. Visibility was excellent, a surprise given how choppy the seas had been. We surfaced begging to try for another dive, and keeping an eye on the weather which was gaining speed again, we filled tanks and headed to Norris Rocks, the Sea Lion rookery, through driving rain and pounding waves.

I tell you all that because it was a hell of an adventure, which is what you say when you get through the other side and it all goes well. At the time I was a little nervous. 2 of the more experienced divers had stayed behind, not because of safety but because they were pretty sure we wouldn’t see a thing even if we got out there. And they missed out on what was, for me, the dive of my life. We jumped into the water and before we were kneeling on the bottom at 35 feet, the sea lions were already upon us, swooping and diving with such speed and grace it was hard at times to keep track of them. One moment there, the next gone, and soon back again. Curious, they nibbled everything they could – hoses, fins, housings, arms, heads.

I’m not going to lie, it’s both a thrill and a concern when a sea lion has your skull entirely in its jaws. They are so gentle, but it felt like a good squeeze would be more interesting for them than for us. And yet you hardly noticed because others would be right there in front of you, looking into your eyes, amused by their reflections in the dome of our camera housings.

It was the shortest hour of my life and I surfaced from that calm and delight to an angry surface, bouncing our way home (after losing my lunch a few times) unable to contain the joy. This. This is what I was writing about the other day when I said we need to find the magic. You need to put yourself in front of things that inspire the wonder, that make your heart and your mind spark with excitement; if you want to make more interesting photographs, put yourself in front of more interesting things. Forget the stuff that doesn’t thrill you, intrigue you, light you on fire in some way. Life’s too short. And at the same time it’s too long to live it untouched by those things, whatever they are for you. Because those things that light you on fire will create the brightest light if you fan it to flame, and people – as John Wesley said – will come for miles to watch you burn.

As for the divers who stayed behind, I was almost one of them. We make assumptions about what we will see, what we will experience. And when you add the desire not to carry a bunch of gear, or get wet, or just the desire to stay in and read a book, and it’s easy to miss these things – small moments of “what if”, small chances at something great. You never know if you never go, say my Aussie friends. Take the chance. Peer around the corner. Break the surface. Don’t let these moments pass you by, because how we live our moments is how we live our lives. And there are probably fewer of them than we think.


“Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” ~ John Wesley

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  1. Definitely worth the effort for such a special wildlife experience and some awesome photos too, bonus! 🙂

  2. First of alll I want to say terrific blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask
    if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and cllear
    your mind prior to writing. I have had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my
    thoughts out. I do take pleasure in writing however itt just seems
    like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted simply just trying to figure oout how tto begin. Any suggestions or hints?


    1. Author

      Hi Myrna – I think you’re on exactly the right track but perhaps a shift in perspective will help: those first 10-15 minutes aren’t wasted if they get you where you need to be. They are the warm up. Every creative I know goes through something similar, including me. I sit, I start writing, and usually, I delete all the stuff I start with. Of course ritual also helps. I like the same chair, a cup of coffee, and some Van Morrison, when I can. That gets me warmed up faster and many writers also have rituals that help anchor then and center them. Hope this helps!

  3. Incredibly moving photos and story….my favorite of all of your incredible blogs so far. When we take the chance and walk into the unknown despite doubt and fear, the the whole of the Multiverse conspires to gift us with grand adventures. I had a similar experience years ago after waiting a week to swim with the Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas. We encountered very challenging weather unseasonably early, but on the last day of our trip, decided to risk the heavy seas and went out anyway. To my great joy, a pod of 16 with two babies showed up to visit with us. Jumping into those rough waters was scary and I had to consciously calm my body down, but once I did, the magic happened and I will never forget the incredible and loving interaction with these beings. I am curious as to whether the “mouthing” of the sea lions is the same kind of scanning that dolphins do at times when interacting with humans? I’ve read (and experienced) that they do this as a way to “read” our state of being…and in order to help heal us.

  4. These images are AMAZING. And I just couldn’t agree more with your words…”Don’t let these moments pass you by, because how we live our moments is how we live our lives. And there are probably fewer of them than we think.”

  5. Hi David,
    Thanks for posting your wonderful black and white images of the Stellar sea lions under water. Like Paul. I also live on Hornby (most of the time) and find its natural wonders a constant source of inspiration (and I’m only talking above the sea surface)! Next time you get up this way let us know so we can show you around!

  6. David, I am so glad that you got to experience the shores off of my home turf, albeit during a rather inclement period of weather. Those stormy events on the island certainly make me feel alive and fill me with a sense of exuberance; at least until, invariably, the power goes off! Thanks for the wonderful shots of those playful and curious beings … love your inspirational posts!

  7. As usual, a beautiful and inspirational post, David. “You need to put yourself in front of things that inspire the wonder” is a great reminder. Thanks.

  8. Wow aptly named stellar – they sure are and so are the photos amazing work! Thanks for the great words of encouragement and great photo, Dave.

  9. I am SOOOO happy for you that you guys finally met up with the sea lions!!! Makes me super excited to get my housing (and more dives under my belt) 😀

  10. Gosh they are incredibly beautiful creatures and your images show them perfectly.
    So unlike the sea lions that hang around the shore, more slender with delicate features.

    Good for you in taking the chance and persevering , you deserved the good luck and
    great captures.

  11. Great post and wonderful story about embracing the unknown and having the courage to do so. Love your posts AND your photography!

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