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November 27, 2005

Harbor seal, Phoca vitulina
Always wary, harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) spend a great deal of time
scooting along, just a few inches off the bottom. Presumably, this makes it
difficult for predators and prey alike to detect their presence. Since the lens
used in this shot makes the subject appear farther away than it really is, it
may not have occurred to you to wonder why this animal, merely inches from the
camera's dome port is looking at something off to the photographer's right. If I
recall correctly, the animal came this close because it was attracted to the
port itself - they're very shiny underwater. While harbor seals seem to really
like camera ports, they have something of a love/hate relationship with strobes.
On the one hand, strobes such as the YS-90s I was using on this dive are, like
ports, shiny since their outer casings are transparent. On the other hand, they
emit terrible, scary flashes. About five minutes before this shot was taken, an
itchy trigger finger got the best of me and I pressed the shutter while this
seal was still about eighteen inches away. In this position, it was looking
almost directly into the strobes and winced in obvious annoyance. I cursed
myself for being so careless, but the damage was done. In this later shot, the
seal is actually looking at one of the strobes, I suspect with some concern.
Harbor seals are quick to learn how to avoid getting hit with strobes or focus
lights. Once educated, they may still tug on your fins, chew on an offered hand,
and even check out the non-flashy sides of strobes using the universal harbor
seal kiss of investigation (lips parted, mouth closed and pressed against the
object of interest). However, raise your camera, any you'll most likely end up
with nothing but the south end of a north bound seal. Should you find yourself
in such a position, It's time to turn off the camera and just enjoy the moment.

    "Tanker Reef", Monterey Bay, California
    November 27, 2005

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