(N.Morgan) This is a tale of a close encounter of a friendly kind, where humans are the intruders into an underwater world of magic.
It is about a diver and an Atlantic grey seal encounter in the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago off the south western tip of the Cornish peninsula in the United Kingdom.
The diver shown in the story indicates the encounter with this grey seal was unexpected, it is believed he was not part of any tourist group since they tend to meet the wildlife while snorkeling close to shore.
55-year-old Gary Grayson has been scuba diving many times before – yet this underwater encounter was unlike anything he had ever experienced. The seal approached him, and Grayson wasn’t expecting anything other than a brief glimpse as the creature passed. But then something truly amazing happened which – if he hadn’t been wearing a mask – would have left him breathless.
In 2014, Grayson was diving off the Scilly Isles, where he had a chance meeting that was not only unexpected but totally unforgettable. Fortunately, Grayson and his team captured the event on camera to share this remarkable experience with the world.
Grayson uploaded the extraordinary video to his YouTube channel on August 1, 2014, and it subsequently went viral. During his recorded dive, Grayson comes face-to-face with an especially forward Atlantic grey seal. And while he had seen the mammals many times before, he never expected to be this close to one.
In an interview with the local newspaper, the Manchester Evening News, Grayson said, “I had seen other seals in the water, but they just buzzed past us. None was as inquisitive as he was.” What’s more, after he came over to investigate Grayson, the mammal’s curiosity only grew.
Then suddenly, the seal put his face right up against Grayson’s mask. Initially, he took an interest in the diver’s equipment — and particularly the bubbles coming from his breathing apparatus. The seal seemed fascinated by the stream of froth jetting into the water.
It was only when the seal lost interest in the bubbles that something remarkable happened. Grayson felt something close around his hand, and when he looked down, the seal was grasping it in his webbed flipper. It looked like the diver had made a new friend.
Grayson shook hands with the seal, but he couldn’t have predicted what happened next. It appeared that the seal wanted something from the diver and so nibbled lightly at his hand as if to keep his attention. Then the seal did something incredible.
As Grayson petted the seal, the mammal rolled around in the water and presented his tummy to him. The adorable sea creature was acting just like a playful puppy – and he even wanted a belly rub! Later on, the adventurer gave the experience his wholehearted ‘seal of approval’.
The story calls the sea creature a sea lion, but that is not a correct identification. Research of the sea creatures to be found in water off the Isles of Scilly shows they are images of grey seals, with all the dappled spots on their body, and that is what the tourist come to see and swim with in this part of the Atlantic..
In the United Kingdom, grey seals are protected under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970, however, it does not apply to Northern Ireland. In the United Kingdom, there have also been calls for a cull of the grey seals from some fishermen, who are claiming that fish stocks have been declined due to the grey seals.
There is a tourist industry which revolves around swimming/snorkeling with the grey seals in the Isles of Scilly — this would mean the sea animal is comfortable around humans when both are swimming in the water, but the level of engagement the diver experience with this special creature was very unusual .
The grey seals are the largest breeding seals found in the United Kingdom. Half of the world’s population of grey seals are found around the British coasts, and the numbers of grey seals in the United Kingdom have doubled since 1960.
In the autumn, females congregate at traditional pupping sites called rookeries. The grey seal pups weigh approximately 31 pounds (14 kilograms) at birth, but since their mother’s milk contains sixty percent fat, they quickly balloon and develop the blubber layer essential for maintaining their body temperature out at sea.
When in the sea feeding, the grey seals can dive to a depth of approximately 230 feet (70 meters).
The video below is from December 2015, and was filmed in a different area, the Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli), North Wales. It shows the grey seals on the shore, just being themselves, along with some footage of females and their pups. All footage was taken by Ben Porter.
A great week’s diving in Scilly with Dave McBride of Dive Scilly. This footage below was shot on a late afternoon dive. The other divers had exited the water after about 40 minutes, which is when the seals became a bit more inquisitive. This diver spent over an hour and a half in the water just playing. What an amazing experience.
The grey seals seem to be playing peekaboo, their gentleness and grace definitely make a lasting impression and provide for an experience you will never forget.