Did you know that Harbour Seals belong to a family of animals called Pinnipeds? Or that they can dive to 300 metres and stay underwater for over half an hour? Or that up until the 1970′s, harbour seals were hunted in BC waters, decimating the population, but since halting the hunting the populations have returned to historic numbers, with a 1998 survey counting over 100,000 individuals?
My favorite place to view our local variety of pinnipeds is out by the Trail Islands, by kayak. At this time of year I bring a long telephoto lens as July/August are peak birthing months in southern BC. Even with that I may not have been far enough away – there is some research showing that coming too close can impact pup mortality from the stress of spending too much time in the water too early after birth. Lesson learned. Gentle paddling, quiet voices, and avoiding thumping in the boats help to keep the seals calm when passing the outcrops en route to either of the more southerly Trail Islands.
I laid my paddle flat on the kayak cockpit coaming and stayed very still a ways out from the rocks, and had a few visits from inquisitive members of the group of perhaps 20-25 seals, including a young pup, who came up right at one paddle’s edge and checked me out for a good 20 seconds before slipping back under the water and twisting away into the deep green waters like a fragment of a dream.
Life doesn’t get any better than this, I think.
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