October 15, 2008

Attacked by a Seal

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I have been swimming in Santa Monica Bay, CA for twenty years since moving here from Sydney, Australia. As a boy, I swam in shark infested Sydney harbor almost every day. Members of the Royal Fishing Yacht Club hauled out 15ft Tiger sharks and hung them up to be weighed every weekend. But in all that time I never saw a shark in the water. I see a lot of dolphins in Santa Monica Bay and they come pretty close when I swim but still no sharks. I swim 2 -3 miles every day. I used to swim a couple of hundred yards out parallel to the shore but I have become more concerned about sharks especially since the attack in San Diego last year. Now I swim closer to shore.

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Typical Harbor Seal.  Their nose feels like a bristly squid.

Yesterday I was chased down by a seal. While I was swimming into the first mile I felt something push against my feet. It didn’t feel like kelp so I immediately looked below and behind me and saw a large grey, spotted seal swimming underneath me.  It Scared the #@$%* out of me at first until I realized it was a seal.  It disappeared quickly and I thought that maybe it was just checking me out and wasn’t interested. So I continued to swim. Moments later it came back and knocked into my legs from the side. I stopped and floated looking for it in the water. Twice more it came up from the depths to my feet and I kicked it away. I started to wade towards shore and it followed me staying within yards arms reach. It came to the surface several times to look at me. I looked back trying to figure out what it wanted. Then it dove back under the water. This continued until I reached shore and could stand. When the seal saw this it flipped its tail and dove under. I saw its head pop up a few times more further and further down the shore. After a while I started to swim again but in the opposite direction.

I always thought that I would see shark before it would see me. But visibility was so low that it wasn’t until the seal was just six feet away that I could make out what it was. The first nudge on my feet stopped my heart. You don’t expect to be touched when you are swimming alone out in the ocean. In retrospect I think the seal was either just curious, a female thinking I was a larger male or a diver with scraps to feed it.

I went back in again today. I love swimming in the ocean. I’ve spent my whole life swimming and sailing. So, its like getting back on the horse.  It is a fearful place for sure. Most of it is in our heads though and much of that fear can be dispelled through research and scuba diving – to get a better look at what’s actually down there. It’s too beautiful and wild a place for me not to be in it.

Filed under Adventures