Scuba Diving - - TRAIN - BY BOB FRIEL

t was a science ex­pe­di­tion: crit­ter geeks col­lect­ing data in the chilly waters off Hornby Is­land, Bri­tish Columbia. But some­times, when you’re far from home, re­la­tion­ships can blos­som un­ex­pect­edly.

I no­ticed her right away. Very cute. Dark, play­ful eyes. She was shy at first, but once she re­al­ized we had many shared in­ter­ests, she be­came for­ward to the point of, “Whoa, babe, slow down. Let’s get to know each other.” (I’m old-school.)

First came a fin tug. I turned and there she was, long golden body ex­e­cut­ing a grace­ful roll. Next, a bite on my thigh. Steller sea lions are ba­si­cally un­der­wa­ter griz­zlies, with the same gnarly ca­nines, only sea lions grow to more than twice the size. But this was just a love nib­ble.

My buddy and I were mobbed. They bit hoses, un­did wrist­bands, tugged straps, twisted my video lights, and mouthed us all over.

It was won­der­ful, truly an amaz­ing en­counter. But my girl was ex­tra spe­cial.

She spent the whole dive rub­bing up and down my dry­suit and tick­ling her­self on my fins. When my bot­tom time was up, she had other plans. She charged down from the sur­face, bar­reled me over and held me down. I had 700 psi left, so I just laid back and took a shaky selfie of us as she spun around on top of me. When she went up for air, I swam for the boat.

I didn’t get there. The fourth time she pinned me, I fig­ured that was it. We were des­tined to haul out to­gether and eat her­ring hap­pily ever af­ter. Dur­ing her next break for a breath, though, I made it to the an­chor line.

Back on board, I told a pin­niped ex­pert about my new sea lion lady friend.

“What makes you think it was a fe­male?” he asked.

It doesn’t mat­ter. It was still spe­cial.

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