Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

It’s Their Ocean

It’s their Ocean.

Photo below was taken during a chance encounter with a mature male Steller Sea Lion as he glided by Bull Kelp.

I can’t share this photo without providing the following information because sea lions and seals are caught at the interface of human love / hate in British Columbia. It’s volatile.

Photo: October 4th near Telegraph Cove.

Please know we don’t target seal or sea lion haul outs. We do not want to force an interaction and contribute to habituation.

But, sometimes, they find us. And that is a great gift.

It is in fact against federal law to conduct “swim with” operations where divers and/or swimmers are put in the water with the purpose of having interactions at haul outs. This has been the case since July 2018 when the amended Marine Mammal Regulations went into effect. They explicitly state: “No person shall approach a marine mammal to, or to attempt to .  . . swim with it or interact with it.” 

Habituated wild animals lose their wariness which will not work well for them, or us. Wild animals do not allow you to touch them nor to put your hand in their mouths. Human injury has resulted as a result of seals and sea lions becoming habituated to humans / divers. Of course it has.

Habituation is especially a concern in this time where seals and sea lions are being vilified for interactions with fisheries. Horrific hate language and imagery are being perpetuated on social media. It’s one thing to have an opinion. It’s another to perpetuate hate. 

In my work as a marine educator, I’ve asked for clarity regarding the Marine Mammal Regulations and their enforcement. It’s part of my job with the Marine Education and Research Society to educate about laws involving marine mammals. There is also a personal layer of concern because dear friends are involved with swim-with operations whereby there are implications for their businesses and welfare.

My understanding is that the lag in enforcement regarding “do not swim with” has been due to having to prioritize resources (e.g. enforcement of infractions around endangered whales) and wanting to provide an opportunity for education before enforcement.

This is also the case regarding it being against the law to feed seals and sea lions. This used to be a common practice at some fish processing plants and tourism facilities. Education was provided first. Enforcement of the law will now follow.

I am sharing this information in an effort to educate on the law and what best serves wild animals.

Pacific Harbour Sea emerging from the kelp forest. It’s something I will never forget. We were ending our dive and entering in the shallows for our safety stop. I noticed something moving in the Bull Kelp. Then I realized it was seal playing there, corkscrewing her/himself around the stipe of kelp and then spinning out of it and . . . repeat. I put down my camera. I tried to drink it in, to learn, and to realize I had formed a bias to perceive seals as I saw them on the surface. I had unconsciously undervalued their intelligence and playfulness. I did lift my camera as the seal moved out of the forest. Yep, a gift.

*Canada’s amended Marine Mammal Regulations include:
No person shall approach a marine mammal to, or to attempt to:
(a) feed it;
(b) swim with it or interact with it;
(c) move it or entice or cause it to move from the immediate vicinity in which it is found;
(d) separate it from members of its group or go between it and a calf;
(e) trap it or its group between a vessel and the shore or between a vessel and one or more other vessels; or
(f) tag or mark it.

Regarding the vilification of seals and sea lions, please see our Marine Education and Research Society backgrounder “To Kill Seals and Sea Lions?” at this link.

4 Responses to “It’s Their Ocean”

  1. Laura Tesler

    Hi Jackie. What are you saying here? Are you saying you support operations in Canada than run sea lion diving or not? It seems that you are saying they are against the law. For those operations this is their bread and butter so this will surely be contentious. Is observation considered “take” ? This is popular activity for many divers as you know. Does it cause habituated behavior? Probably. Thanks for you clarification.

    • The Marine Detective

      The language of the law is included in the post. I am an educator striving to ensure it is understood what the law is. I do not support what is against the law. I have empathy and understanding for what this means for people I care about.

  2. Michael Jarman

    Jackie, A number of years ago I was diving just outside of Pender Harbour (about 45 ft. down) and a female Stellar sealion came and visited me. She was totally enthralled with my bubble stream, playing it and spinning around me. An experience I will never forget. She was beautiful! So fluid and at one with the sea. Thanks for sharing your pictures, brought back that moment for me. Thank you for your dedication to teaching people that there is so much more to the ocean than its surface. Best regards Michael

    On Sun., Oct. 18, 2020, 10:54 p.m. The Marine Detective, wrote:

    > The Marine Detective posted: “It’s their Ocean. Photo below was taken > during a chance encounter with mature male Steller Sea Lion as he glided by > Bull Kelp. I can’t share this photo without providing the following > information because sea lions and seals are caught at the interfa” >

    • The Marine Detective

      Thank you so much for sharing Michael. I know that feeling of awe and being gifted. 🙂 Fo what it is worth, the sea lion may also have been a juvenile male. It’s so difficult to discern females from juvenile males.


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