My favourite dive to date wasn’t somewhere exotic and tropical but actually in British waters – the Farne Islands. Anyone who has visited these islands will have seen the large seal colonies that populate the areas and I had the honour of diving amongst these friendly puppy-like creatures.
I do truly mean them to be like puppies. When we were sitting on the boat the seals were all bobbing about in the water watching us. You could see that they knew we were divers and were waiting for us. Some of the looks they gave us felt like they were wondering what was taking us so long to get into the water.
Once we jumped in, me and my diving buddy entered a beautiful kelp bed. That is always something I’ve loved in Britain, the kelp we have is so species rich, beautiful starfish, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. Whoever says that the sea around England is dull and has nothing living there (believe me there are people who think that way) clearly has never actually swam in them. But I wasn’t there to look at the crabs and the lobsters this time, I was after seals.
We had seen many seals on the surface but once we dived down the water was still. We swam along side by side; I was eagerly looking everywhere I could for any sign of them. Then I felt a hand grab my shoulder. My heart leapt in excitement. Was this my dive buddy pointing out a seal? I turned in the water (a slow process in a dry suit) to realise it wasn’t my buddy who had grabbed me, it was a seal. The cutest of faces peered into my own, and I could feel the incredible human-like strength of its fins on my arm. After a quick nosey at my equipment, it caught sight of me looking at it and quickly swam away. My dive partner was laughing at the shocked look on both of our faces.
Venturing further through the kelp, we spotted a sleeping seal settled under an outcrop of rock. Not wanting to disturb his slumber, I gently swam in his direction. As I got closer his details became clearer, allowing me to admire his beautiful fur patterns from above. Whilst I was watching him, he slowly, blearily, opened one eye and looked at me. Then clearly seeing that I was ‘just another diver’ it closed its eye and went back to sleep. What a life.
It was about halfway through our dive time when the most magical experience happened. Two adolescent seals approached my buddy and I, both clearly still inquisitive about divers. Without hesitation they swam over. They checked us out, as we must have looked very odd with all that heavy equipment on! Also, in comparison to their graceful movements we were lumbering sloths with our diving gear on, moving so slowly we were barely able to keep them in sight.
As their confidence grew, they played with our hands chewing lightly on our fingers. Similar to young puppies, their teeth were needle-like, as they gently pressed their teeth on our hands nibbling playfully, testing us with their gums. They could have easily taken a few fingers but their actions were nothing but friendly and curious.
We began laughing when we started to stroke them as they just didn't want us to stop! I lowered my hand after gently stroking one seal's fur, like a needy puppy she reached out, picked up my hand between her fins whilst placing it back on her belly. Clearly she wanted a good tickle.
They were also fascinated with our fins. I had to sit on a rock at one point whilst a seal had a good chew on one of them. I think they knew we shouldn’t have fins really and were trying to confiscate them. How dare we come into their world and imitate them, we’re supposed to have toes not flippers!
The seals stayed with us for a good few minutes investigating the cumbersome, slow creatures that had ventured into their homes. Once they got bored they swam off into the blue, there was no chance to follow them due to their speed and we made no attempt to. It’s important to remember that these seals are wild, not captive, they chose to play with us of their own free will. It was an honour to be their playmates for those precious moments and it was certainly an inspiring experience me and by dive partner will never forget.
Credit to Russell Blything for sharing the dive with me and taking some excellent photos, and to Olivia Ingle for editing my messy work.