Playful seal just one of the treats of night-time diving off Ogden Point

Divers monitoring the waters off the Ogden Point breakwater at night have filmed a marine ecosystem rich with life and colour coinciding with the incoming tide.

A crew of eight First Nations commercial divers has been monitoring sea life in the waters off southern Vancouver Island since February 2020. They are part of the Multi-Nation Environmental Monitoring Project, a collaboration between the Songhees, Esquimalt, Scianew and T’Sou’ke First Nations.

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The goal of the program is to establish First Nations as the stewards of both the land and water and uncover the natural history that lies on the ocean floor.

During a recent night dive in traditional Songhees and Esquimalt territory, the crew came upon a playful harbour seal and witnessed the mating ritual of Puget Sound king crabs.

One of the crew captured the interaction and other interesting after-dark marine activity.

“It was a unique treat to see and interact with the seal,” said William (Billy) Mobley VII, a member of the T’Sou’ke First Nations. “It was an incredible adrenaline rush. I had seen a sea lion before, but that was at a distance.”

While he typically wears a three-layer dry suit and uses oxygen tanks while in the frigid waters, he has seen freedivers in the water alongside him with only a wet suit and a snorkel.

The extra level of thermal protection means that he can remain in the water for a longer period of time. In the dive where he encountered the seal, he was in the water for about 45 minutes. He could have lasted longer had he been less active and not used up his oxygen trying to follow the seal, he said.

Since he first posted the images on his social-media page last weekend, he has received hundreds of likes and has been peppered with questions on what he had filmed.

“People seem to like what they saw and want to learn more,” said Mobley, 31. “Watching a joyful seal play seems to be an indication of what is needed at this time.”

He filmed the five clips using a waterproof GoPro camera.

A documentary short film of the program, Finding the Balance by director Steve Sxwithul’txw, was recently screened at the 2021 Victoria Film Festival.

The program is expected to wrap up at the end of the month. The crew is hopeful that a similar program might take place in the Saanich Inlet in the near future.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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