Great Bear Sea Winter Dive Expedition: Part III

It’s not normally recommended to expose yourself so entirely; out here storms from the southeast can churn up the seas before you can say ‘purple ringed top snail’.  Bobbing over the remnant swells from the last blow, we look back at the mainland before it blurs into a darkened silhouette of peaks and valleys that make up the coast mountain range.  With anchor secured, we are visited by a gang of Steller sea lions, a family of river otters and the bulbous heads and watchful eyes of harbour seals in every quiet cove.

As the western sun dips below the horizon, leaving its imprint of amber and crimson light, we soak in the panorama atop a rock nearby our lonely anchorage.  We hear the squeals of a sea otter pup before it comes into view, riding on its mother’s furry stomach.   A curiously placed snowy owl lands on an islet nearby as we savor the experiences of another wonderfully rich and diverse day.

Extra preparation was required for today: extra paddles, air tanks, VHF radios and a sat phone, in addition to a pre-departure agreement on emergency hand signals.  Rising up the steep swells in our trusty dinghy, the three of us hunkered down as white foam whipped across us.  I was jealous of Ian and Tav’s dry suits.  After thirty dives this past week, the divers have fallen into a familiar rhythm, and as they drop to the bottom I could see the waves of mysids flowing over them.   Later they would tell me that these tiny shrimp were so thick that they blocked out the sun.

In mixed seas like this it was hopeless to keep track of their bubbles, so I relied on the strobe from Ian’s flash to monitor their positions.  So much shrimp biomass ensured the surface lens was covered in sea birds and plenty of fish below.

The third dive of the day was chosen up a quiet pass, protected from the ocean swell but with lots of tidal current pushing late season bull kelp forests.  I could see dozens of harbour seals swimming below in the crystal clear water weaving back and forth as they curiously watched on.

Tuning into the weather channel brings news of storm conditions descending on our rocky perch, so we make a late departure for the safety of the mainland; now instead of big swells and surfing pescavores the tannin waters of the mainland bring brilliant orange sea pens, fields of nudibranchs and a travelling group of transient orcas.  After breakfast, Ian admits he’s behind on some paperwork (some excuse about due dates for a book) and sits out the morning’s dive, so Tav had the pleasure of yours truly filling in as his dive partner – what a wonderful treat to see it first hand!

The days have gone too quickly and we have only explored a tiny fragment of the Great Bear Sea, but bearing witness to this rarely-observed world has been a gift.  It’s not just the magnificent combination of flora, fauna and geology that faces such an uncertain future, it’s also the human communities that rely on the health of these systems. The continuing fight against oil tankers is found in the unity of all nations, in the unprecedented alliance of the walkers and swimmers, of the slimy and spiny.  And perhaps if you experience a moment of despair for this coast, know that there are thousands and millions of creatures still blowing bubbles for the Great Bear Sea!

Thanks for reading!

Ian, Tavish and Ashley

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  1. The underwater beauty of the Great Bear Sea | Tim Irvin

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