January 4, 2019
In the Presence of Seals
- as seen by -Katherine Gomero
While scuba diving in 57 degrees water off the coast of Monterey, California, I had my first encounter with a large marine mammal — a wild harbor seal (Phoca vitulina).
While swimming out to our dive site, I poked my head underwater not wanting to waste a minute of my first dive. As my eyes focused, I noticed a spotted, silvery coat and dark eyes staring up at me. What I thought was a giant fish turned out to be a harbor seal lounging on the ocean floor beneath me. I signaled to my dive instructor, and with regulators ready, we descended to find only bright sand and distant views of the kelp bed.
I did not think I would be in the presence of seals until a month later when an opportunity arose for me as a member of the New York Aquarium’s volunteer dive team. Our Dive Safety Officer, Joe Gessert, announced the divers scheduled to clean the harbor seal exhibit that day included my name – and the seals would be with us for this special dive.
My dive buddy and I got ready to dive into our duties. We were careful to keep our eyes on our work and stay a safe distance from the seals. We were entering their home and wanted to do so without startling them. The seals stayed on one side of the exhibit, and we stayed on the other. Their turns and swirls brought them closer as their curiosity got the better of them. Suddenly, from behind a boulder, our male harbor seal, William, swam toward me. My surprise became delight when I noticed how calm he was. Will moved leisurely past and continued with his exploration. Will and Coral, our pair at the aquarium contain both colors harbor seals are known for — spotted silver gray and dark brown.
Stop by the aquarium and you may see volunteer divers maintaining underwater exhibits. And, of course, our harbor seals.