Diving in the Southern Strait of Georgia


by Samantha Hamilton, CPAWS volunteer 

As a kid, I always loved being in the water. The lake, the beach, or the pool was where I always wanted to be. Then, one summer day when I was sixteen, I came to Victoria, and I fell in love with the ocean.

I was using SCUBA equipment and swimming in the Pacific for the first time. It wasn’t dark and it wasn’t just rocks and seaweed, instead it was full of brightly coloured animals everywhere I looked! As if this wasn’t enough, suddenly something fast caught the corner of my eye. I was instantly fixated on two harbour seals bolting through the water, leaving trails of small bubbles. Like an acrobat on a trapeze, one paused to stare directly back at me before she twisted and swam around me. This was my first interaction with a large, wild, marine animal, and it triggered an undying love affair with the ocean. Nearly ten years later, I still find myself chasing more great sights. 

Soon after I moved here, I was leading a training dive on a sunny afternoon. Not long into the dive, along came a dancing giant rainbow nudibranch suspended in the water. This nudibranch species is larger and unlike all but one other species worldwide, because it occasionally lifts up and undulates its body to swim, twirling all its long soft appendages with it. It was a graceful sight, and reminded me that Victoria’s marine life had yet to cease surprising me.
 

While I was living on Canada’s east coast, I developed a personal goal of seeing wolfish – a long, bright blue and grey fish with fangs that lives in deeper water in a den that it uses for its entire life. It was almost like folklore— the only people who’d seen a wolfish had been diving for an eternity and even they weren’t seeing them anymore. 

 When I moved to Victoria, I was overjoyed to hear that the wolf eel, a similar looking close relative of the wolfish, were seemingly more common and well known. My first sighting wasn’t right away, but I was overjoyed to be introduced to Loup (french for wolf) and his life-long girlfriend, tucked away together under an unsuspecting rock at McCurdy Point, and have visited them on several occasions since. 

Another beautiful creature is the intelligent giant pacific octopus.  My most memorable experience seeing a bright red giant octopus was at Swordfish Island, southwest of Victoria. My dive buddy and I came across two other divers who were transfixed on what appeared to be nothing.  

After a few minutes we realized the large rock we were staring at was actually the enlarged head of an octopus, still as a statue and completely camouflaged to match the brown algae-covered rocky surroundings. The divers only noticed it because they were looking to hold onto something while they adjusted their equipment. This great surprise only proved to me how intelligent these animals can be, and just how life lives in every corner of this coast, including right under your nose. 

The more that Victoria presents the opportunity to witness animals such as these in such unexpected and breathtaking ways, the more I have no reason to stop looking.

 

To find out more about the animals that live around Victoria in Southern Strait of Georgia, and our campaign to better protect these amazing waters visit http://cpawsbc.org/campaigns/southern-strait-of-georgia


Samantha has recently started volunteering with the CPAWS Marine team as a Southern Strait of Georgia Campaigner based in Victoria.  She has a degree in biology and a masters degree in marine management from Dalhousie University. She has worked as a scuba diver and marine biologist in Bermuda and Australia, and currently works as a dive instructor in the slightly less-tropical waters of Victoria where she never ceases to be amazed by the local marine life.