Suddenly I feel a tugging, a powerful pressure on my left thigh pulling me downward deeper into the water. I turned my head toward the pulling…
One of those overcast, foggy days when each direction I looked I could see a different combination of silver-gold-purple on the beautiful, glassy sea. Underneath I had 30 plus foot visibility of aqua as I was free-diving a kelp forrest near Los Angeles/Ventura County Line.
I speared a fat fish and was snorkeling along the outside of the kelp forest when something told me to look behind me. Three harbor seals were shadowing me. I turned North and continued diving and cruising along the edge of the kelp with the three seals buzzing me, racing up to my face and veering off at the last instant. I decided that since I had only one fish, I would give it to the alpha seal, the most aggressive one. I unhooked my stainless steel stringer, took the fish off and shoved it toward the seal, who clearly turned up his nose and ignored it as the fish swam slowly toward the bottom about 30 feet below. Since the seals didn’t want it, I was not about to let it go to waste. I eat everything I catch so I took a breath, dove down and picked it up and followed a kelp tree back up to the surface. Cruising North again I speared two more fish, three now on my stringer, enough to feed my family two meals.
That’s when I felt the mugging. I looked directly into the seal’s eyes, less than an arm’s-length from mine. His jaws had chomped and locked-on the fish on my stringer and was pulling on them hard. The look in his eyes made it very clear that he was not about to let go. He stared into my eyes as he pulled backward, downward with my catch, taking me with him. I was not alarmed but I didn’t want to be bullied by this sea mammal either.
I didn’t want to hurt the seal by resorting to my knife or spear. I feel that we share a common heritage and that they have just as much right to the meal as I do, so I decided to give them up. I backpedaled, thrashing and struggling to rip myself free, but with no result. I did manage to get myself into position to unsnap the hook and release the fish to the seal.
The three seals each snatched one of the three fish and ran, figuratively. So, I figured they got what they wanted and would leave me alone.
I continued my dive headed north until I came upon a beautiful kelp meadow, a small area surrounded by waving kelp trees that threw their mottled shadows on the reef. The center of the meadow was lit by the golden rays of the sun and I lingered there, harvesting what I thought would be my dinner. After a short time I had another three fish on my stringer. Once more I spy inquisitive eyes peering at me from behind the cover of the kelp stand. First to the right, then to the left, then behind me. “Here they come again!” I thought “What’s the use?” I guess they had been watching me from the shadows. Kind hearted fellow that I am I gave them my remaining three fish and swam in through the surf, empty handed for my trouble.
Next time, though, I think I’ll fight them off. I was counting on some fresh fish. It was a beautiful dive though, many colors, many critters, schools of thousands of baitfish and señorita fish. All in all, not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.