Nov 212011

Australian Fur Seal

About the site

Over the last few months I’ve been lucky enough to have seals drop in for a visit towards the end of my dives. Despite their considerable bulk and slow speed on land, these guys are easily able to turn a lap around a diver faster than you can turn to follow them. Luckily, curiousity will often bring them in for a closer look, craning their neck from side to side as they inspect the divers in their domain.

About the dive

This particular photo was taken at the end of a dive in the Heads of Port Phillip Bay. Slack water had just finished and I was gently drifting out to sea with the ebbing tide as I waited for the boat to pick me up. Usually by this point of the dive I have the strobes off and the dome port cover on the camera, ready to hand up to the boat before climbing aboard. With calm seas, sunshine and blue skies above, I had instead set up to camera to take photos of the boat from the water.

This very large seal had been sleeping on the surface in the sun before coming over to check out the boat. I could see him splashing around in the distance and was hoping he’d decide a diver in the water was more interesting than a boat full of them. After five minutes disappeared from the surface and I stuck my head under and tried to look in ten directions at once. I spotted his approach out of the corner of my eye, and managed to snap off just this one image as he shot past at high speed – done with looking at tourists, he disappeared into the depths.A seal inspects us from beneath

In the second photo here, this seal eyeballed us on from several directions after a dive on the George Kermode. With every lap he came in closer until he was within a foot of the lens and moving his head from left to right while watching the mirror seal living in the camera. With the good grace to come in nice and close I got several shots of his expressive face.

About the shot

The speed of seals can be a major problem for underwater photography with strobe recycle times over a second preventing me taking advantage of the 8 frames per second that my camera is capable of. Autofocusing the camera through water can be slower than on land, and turning my large camera housing rig through the water to keep up with an overactive seal is challenging even in calm seas. Luckily seals are often fascinating by shiny or dangly things, and this includes their own reflection in the front of the dome port.

On this occasion however, this seal was speeding past on his way to deeper and fishier things. He wasn’t going to stop for a portrait session. With the camera on at 45 degrees to the surface and the appropriate settings for sunshine and blue water, I managed to capture his dive. He’s about one metre below the surface here, and the bubbles trailing along his body show his speed. I especially like the dappled sunlight across his body, and the expression on his face – completely at home in the ocean.

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