Tag

Canada

Diving British Columbia’s Browning Pass and God’s Pocket Provincial Marine Park

Canada, Underwater Photography

“The Best Cold Water Diving in the World” Strong words. True? Probably. I recently spent a week diving in and around Browning Pass, a spectacular underwater ecosystem at the very north tip of Vancouver Island on the West Coast of British Columbia. The area is home to many islands, islets, passages and narrow straights. Extreme daily tides mean a lot of water is moving, continually with the exception of a few slack tide moments each day, producing strong currents that are amplified in the narrow waterways. Such currents bring a steady supply of nutrients to the carpets of invertebrate life that cover the area’s undersea reefs. While I was with Richard Salas last year photographing Steller sea lions — marine mammals being a big interest of mine — he showed me lot of spectacular images from a place called “God’s Pocket”. The images convinced me to join Richard at God’s Pocket for a week and check it out myself. I’m generally not a critter guy nor a macro photographer, but I figured what the hell. British Columbia is said to be some of the best diving in the world. I reasoned I should see it once in my diving career at least.

Hurst Island and Gods Pocket Provincial Park, aerial photo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Hurst Island and Gods Pocket Provincial Park, aerial photo.
Image ID: 34464
Location: Gods Pocket Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Giant Plumose Anemones cover underwater reef, Browning Pass, northern Vancouver Island, Canada, Metridium farcimen

Giant Plumose Anemones cover underwater reef, Browning Pass, northern Vancouver Island, Canada
Image ID: 34326
Species: Giant Plumose Anemone, Metridium farcimen
Location: British Columbia, Canada

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Urticina piscivora

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Image ID: 34327
Species: Fish-eating Anemone, Urticina piscivora
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Alabaster Nudibranch, white-lined dirona, Dirona albolineata, Vancouver Island, Dirona albolineata

Alabaster Nudibranch, white-lined dirona, Dirona albolineata, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34329
Species: Alabaster Nudibranch, White-Lined Dirona, Dirona albolineata
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Fleshy Sea Pen, Ptilosarcus gurneyi, Vancouver Island, Ptilosarcus gurneyi

Fleshy Sea Pen, Ptilosarcus gurneyi, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34334
Species: Fleshy Sea Pen, Ptilosarcus gurneyi
Location: British Columbia, Canada

In mid March I made my way from big-city Seattle to small-town Port Hardy. Port Hardy is at the far northern end of Vancouver Island, meaning my dive trip was also a road trip. The ferry rides and winding empty highways are a driver’s delight. The landscapes — rugged coastline, snow-capped mountains and dense forests — are beautiful. I had forgotten how much I love Vancouver Island. I met up with others in Richard’s group, we loaded up our gear on the boat “Hurst Isle” and made our way to rustic, comfortable, colorful God’s Pocket Resort on Hurst Island, in God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park. Tucked away in a quiet cove, the resort sits on sturdy pilings over the rocky shoreline at the edge of a dense stand of cedar trees. It could not be more scenic. Bill Weeks and Annie Ceschi run God’s Pocket Resort and took fantastic care of us for a week. We ate superb food, relaxed thoroughly, took in the sublime beauty of the islands at all times, and three times each day we shared in the spectacular diving the area has to offer.

Pink Soft Coral (Gersemia Rubiformis), and Plumose Anemones (Metridium senile) cover the ocean reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Gersemia rubiformis, Metridium senile

Pink Soft Coral (Gersemia Rubiformis), and Plumose Anemones (Metridium senile) cover the ocean reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34330
Species: Pink Soft Coral, Plumose Anemone, Gersemia rubiformis, Metridium senile
Location: British Columbia, Canada

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Urticina piscivora

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Image ID: 34331
Species: Fish-eating Anemone, Urticina piscivora
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Spotted Leopard Dorid, Diaulula odonoghuei, Vancouver Island, Diaulula odonoghuei

Spotted Leopard Dorid, Diaulula odonoghuei, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34338
Species: Spotted Leopard Dorid, Diaulula odonoghuei
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Beautiful Anemone on Rocky Reef near Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Strait, Browning Pass, Canada

Beautiful Anemone on Rocky Reef near Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Strait, Browning Pass, Canada
Image ID: 34340
Location: British Columbia, Canada

White plumose anemones Metridium senile with purple sponge and barnacle, Vancouver Island

White plumose anemones Metridium senile with purple sponge and barnacle, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34341
Location: British Columbia, Canada

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Urticina piscivora

The Fish Eating Anemone Urticina piscivora, a large colorful anemone found on the rocky underwater reefs of Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Image ID: 34346
Species: Fish-eating Anemone, Urticina piscivora
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Browning Pass and Balaklava Island, location of the best cold water diving in the world, aerial panoramic photo

Browning Pass and Balaklava Island, location of the best cold water diving in the world, aerial panoramic photo.
Image ID: 34472
Location: British Columbia, Canada

We would typically leave Hurst Island, round Balaklava Island and dive Browning Pass between Balaklava and Nigei Island. About half the time we would be diving on walls, and virtually every dive had a variety of terrain if not actual walls. Water temps were in the low 40s, something I am not accustomed to, but I made do with my dry suit. I am a sluggish cold water diver and mainly settle down on the bottom and try to find cool stuff that doesn’t move to photograph while ignoring how painfully frostbitten my fingers are. I don’t move around much when I am frozen. But there is no need to go far on these Browning Pass dives — everywhere is an explosion of life. Sure, some walls have more colors than others, some are pure white, some are covered in bull kelp, etc, but rarely can a spot be found where one can put one’s hand down without touching animal life. I was stunned at the density of invertebrates. Fish — they were nice but I’m not too interested in rockfish and rockfish-looking species. But the inverts — holy anemones were they over the top! So overwhelming was the underwater sight-seeing that I did an poor job of actually taking photographs. I often did not know which way to point my camera, there was lush and exotic subjects in every direction. With the limited underwater time that we man-fish have while SCUBA diving I was a little frantic in my photography, wanting to get a record of every thing and consequently doing well at very little. I have been doing this long enough and have experienced so much let down in underwater photography over the years that I knew going into the trip I would likely do a poor job and thus had lowered my photographic expectations way way down. So when I returned home and found I had a few keepers, I was able to declare success! Such is the skewed mindset of the underwater photographer.

Purple sponge with white and orange metridium anemones, below bull kelp forest, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Nereocystis luetkeana

Purple sponge with white and orange metridium anemones, below bull kelp forest, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34347
Species: Bull Kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Lopholithodes mandtii Puget Sound King Crab amid a field of plumose anemones and red kelp, Queen Charlotte Strait, Canada, Lopholithodes mandtii

Lopholithodes mandtii Puget Sound King Crab amid a field of plumose anemones and red kelp, Queen Charlotte Strait, Canada
Image ID: 34348
Species: Puget Sound King Crab, Lopholithodes mandtii
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Hooded Nudibranch Melibe leonina on kelp and rocky reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Canada, Melibe leonina

Hooded Nudibranch Melibe leonina on kelp and rocky reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Canada
Image ID: 34353
Species: Hooded Nudibranch, Melibe leonina
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Clown Nudibranch, Triopha catalinae, Browning Passage, Vancouver Island, Triopha catalinae

Clown Nudibranch, Triopha catalinae, Browning Passage, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34354
Species: Clown nudibranch, Triopha catalinae
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Anemones cling to Bull Kelp Stalk, Browning Pass, British Columbia, Nereocystis luetkeana

Anemones cling to Bull Kelp Stalk, Browning Pass, British Columbia
Image ID: 34357
Species: Bull Kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Beautiful Anemone on Rocky Reef near Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Strait, Browning Pass, Canada

Beautiful Anemone on Rocky Reef near Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Strait, Browning Pass, Canada
Image ID: 34361
Location: British Columbia, Canada

White Plumose anemones Metridium senile and Yellow Sulphur Sponge, Vancouver Island, Metridium senile

White Plumose anemones Metridium senile and Yellow Sulphur Sponge, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34366
Species: Plumose Anemone, Metridium senile
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Colorful starfish and anemones cling to submarine rocks, on the subtidal reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Metridium senile

Colorful starfish and anemones cling to submarine rocks, on the subtidal reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34370
Species: Plumose Anemone, Metridium senile
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Colorful anemones cover the rocky reef in a kelp forest near Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Strait.  Strong currents bring nutrients to the invertebrate life clinging to the rocks

Colorful anemones cover the rocky reef in a kelp forest near Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Strait. Strong currents bring nutrients to the invertebrate life clinging to the rocks.
Image ID: 34379
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Giant Plumose Anemones cover underwater reef, Browning Pass, northern Vancouver Island, Canada, Metridium farcimen

Giant Plumose Anemones cover underwater reef, Browning Pass, northern Vancouver Island, Canada
Image ID: 34389
Species: Giant Plumose Anemone, Metridium farcimen
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Red Irish Lord resting amid Plumose Metridium Anemones, Browning Pass, British Columbia, Metridium farcimen

Red Irish Lord resting amid Plumose Metridium Anemones, Browning Pass, British Columbia
Image ID: 34391
Species: Giant Plumose Anemone, Metridium farcimen
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Plumose anemones cover the ocean reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Canada, Metridium senile, Nereocystis luetkeana

Plumose anemones cover the ocean reef, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Canada
Image ID: 34395
Species: Plumose Anemone, Bull Kelp, Metridium senile, Nereocystis luetkeana
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Pink Soft Coral and Barnacle, Gersemia Rubiformis, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island, Gersemia rubiformis

Pink Soft Coral and Barnacle, Gersemia Rubiformis, Browning Pass, Vancouver Island
Image ID: 34425
Species: Pink Soft Coral, Gersemia rubiformis
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Colorful anemones and soft corals, bryozoans and kelp cover the rocky reef in a kelp forest near Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Strait.  Strong currents bring nutrients to the invertebrate life clinging to the rocks, Metridium senile

Colorful anemones and soft corals, bryozoans and kelp cover the rocky reef in a kelp forest near Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Strait. Strong currents bring nutrients to the invertebrate life clinging to the rocks.
Image ID: 34429
Species: Plumose Anemone, Metridium senile
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Gods Pocket Resort, on Hurst Island, part of Gods Pocket Provincial Park, aerial photo

Gods Pocket Resort, on Hurst Island, part of Gods Pocket Provincial Park, aerial photo
Image ID: 34470
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Gods Pocket Resort, on Hurst Island, part of Gods Pocket Provincial Park

Gods Pocket Resort, on Hurst Island, part of Gods Pocket Provincial Park.
Image ID: 34497
Location: British Columbia, Canada

Steller Sea Lions, Eumetopias jubatus, Hornby Island, British Columbia

Canada, Hornby Island, Sea Lion, Underwater Photography

Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32660
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

I have a real love for pinnipeds (seals and sea lions). I’ve been in the water with many big animals including whales, sharks, dolphins, massive schools of fish, mola mola, etc etc, but pinnipeds — particularly sea lions — are the most fun to be with. Sea lions are typically curious and engaging, and the speed with which they move usually makes photographing them a challenge. The Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) at Norris Rocks near Hornby Island in British Columbia, however, take the cake. They are akin to gigantic puppies. They are considerably larger than California sea lions, a fact which was immediately apparent the first time I was pinned to the reef by a friendly mob of 20 juvenile Stellers. I had been warned about their antics by a few buddies who have been diving with them for years. One fellow even jokingly (or not) suggested a helmet might be helpful. I processed all this info and wondered whether I should be worried. I had never been in 45F-degree water, had not been in a drysuit in 15 years, was admittedly a little nervous about just surviving in such chilly water, so my dive plan was to hang back and watch the other divers get pummeled. It did not go as planned. Less than 5 minutes after I first got in the water at Norris Rocks I found myself face down on the reef, both wrists and both ankles firmly in the grip (re: mouth) of at least four different sea lions, regulator gently tugged by a fifth, and several others trying to nuzzle their faces close to mine for a look. Holy shit, I thought, is this stupid, crazy or super fun? Yes, yes, and yes. Every piece of my gear was a chew toy. Every one of my limbs was a chew toy. My head was a chew toy. It was an exhilarating, intimidating, wonderful experience to be with a mob of Steller sea lions, such a dense group that it would often blot out what little sunlight was reaching the bottom. While I try to avoid anthropomorphising the animals I meet underwater, these Stellers were so inquisitive, with so much very close eye contact, that every dive was a moving experience. Every time I got out of the water I felt more alive than I had in a long time. It only took a few dives for me to become comfortable with the action, and I found that even while getting mobbed I was still able to lift my camera up enough to snap off a photo or two. Granted, most of them were crap, either because the sea lions were too close for the strobe to light properly, or both strobes had been yanked backward by a couple sea lions, or there were simply too many bubbles in the water for anything sensible to be photographed.

Steller Sea Lions and Bald Eagles atop Norris Rocks, Hornby Island and Vancouver Island, panoramic photo, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller Sea Lions and Bald Eagles atop Norris Rocks, Hornby Island and Vancouver Island, panoramic photo
Image ID: 32659
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

I joined underwater photographer Richard Salas for the week. Richard’s work is exceptional and caught my eye some years ago. His style of lighting is especially appealing, bringing his broad experience as a studio and commercial photographer to the underwater world. When I found that my schedule allowed me to join him at Hornby Island to dive with Steller sea lions, I jumped at the chance in spite of my lack of experience in cold water. He gave me lots of great advice beforehand. Armed with a new drysuit I joined Richard and his group of friends at Hornby Island Diving. Rob and Amanda Zielinski run the lodge and dive operation on their property at the waters edge on beautiful Hornby Island. Rob took us diving in his comfortable, quick boat at dive spots just a few minutes from the dock. Amanda runs the lodge where we experienced superb food and lots of peace and quiet to keep us comfortable and warm between dives. Hornby Island Diving is a excellent operation, one of the best I have seen, which is especially important given the weather and water temps can be tough in winter. We had overcast skies most days with a couple of blue sky days, very little wind and calm seas. Water temps were right around 45F the entire week. Water visibility was great, relatively clean with a beautiful emerald green color. We dove twice a day with lunch between dives. I took a day off midweek to make a couple really beautiful hikes on Hornby Island. Over 6 days of diving I made 10 dives at Norris Rocks (and a couple dives elsewhere) and shot thousands of photographs, trying to squeek out a few good images in the chaos of action, bubbles, flippers and teeth that really portray how beautiful these huge creatures are. Gradually some keepers emerged, a couple on each dive, and in the end I was pleased with the images I made. These are some of my favorites. I am planning to return in 2019 for more. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32661
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32662
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32663
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32664
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32670
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32679
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Selfie with Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Selfie with Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32685
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Young Steller sea lions mock jousting underwater,  a combination of play and mild agreession, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Young Steller sea lions mock jousting underwater, a combination of play and mild agreession, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32695
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Steller sea lion underwater bubble display, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lion underwater bubble display, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32757
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32675
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32687
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Selfie with Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Selfie with Steller sea lion underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32737
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lions underwater, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32777
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Steller sea lions underwater, black and white, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Steller sea lions underwater, black and white, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32788
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada

Diver with Steller sea lions, black and white, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada, Eumetopias jubatus

Diver with Steller sea lions, black and white, Norris Rocks, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada
Image ID: 32789
Species: Steller sea lion, Eumetopias jubatus
Location: Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada