May 262015
A sea lion inquisition

A sea lion inquisition

About the site

The Moncoeur Islands are a pair of small outcroppings of rock south of Wilson’s Promontory. Technically part of Tasmania, the granite slopes are inhabited by a large sealion population and flocks of sea birds. Access is tricky – the seas here are very exposed and good weather is rare. I was lucky enough to spend a weekend of relatively flat seas on the Ocean Odyssey, a very awesome boat. After launching from Port Welshpool and slowly chugging down the east coast of the Prom we did some dives in rough water on Saturday. By Sunday the waves had dropped a bit further and we kept heading south.

Sponge garden at Moncoeur Islands

About the dive

Steve and I had done a deep-ish dive on Saturday afternoon. I still had a bunch of helium in my dil so we jumped in and headed down to see what we could find. The wall of the island drops fairly steeply into the water and continues almost straight down underneath the surface. At about 30m depth the kelp gave way to soft sponges and colourful, squishy life. Sea whips were waving in the breeze and schools of butterfly perch followed us around. As you can see in the second photo here, the colours were brilliant.

Having had a swim through the sponge gardens we worked our way back up the wall. At 25m I was engrossed in trying to take pictures of waving kelp when something zipped over my shoulder. It was a juvenile sea lion, very interested in Steve’s shiny tank valves. His high speed friends zoomed in next, pausing to peer at their reflection in the camera, tilt their heads at curious angles, and nudge bits of dive gear that looked interesting. Curiosity satisfied or patience exhausted they would revert to cutting laps around us and chasing each other through the kelp.

We spent about half an hour in the shallows of their garden watching them play games and debubbling. I could have quite happily spent most of the day there. After the next round of divers got in the water I jumped back in with a snorkel and headed over to shore to see if I could snap some sea lion over/under shots. Both the little waves and the sea lions themselves made this hard – all that splashing puts a lot of tiny bubbles in the water. Playful sea lions underwater also became suspicious on land, after they stop being graceful, high speed torpedos and are forced to waddle up the rocks.

Over the course of half a day I managed to take several hundred seal photos to sort through on the way home. A lot of them are fuzzy. Even at the maximum strobe sync speed of 1/250th, a swimming sea lion comes with motion blur. And a lot of them are missing a bit of sea lion, usually as the subject in question twisted its body in unnatural ways. But there are definitely enough keepers that I couldn’t choose my favourites…so here’s a gallery of a few more.

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