Doe-eyed Sea Lion pup who played with me for an hour -- And who I fell terribly in love with.
Los Islotes, near La Paz, Mexico, January 2014

She looked just like my dog, Isabella!

Los Islotes near La Paz in Mexico is a famous sea lion colony, with hundreds of animals visited daily by dozens of snorkelers and divers, and home to the most inquisitive, sweet and mischievous pups you will ever meet.

I played with one sea lion pup in Mexico for an hour. Every time it surfaced I followed it. Every time I descended it followed me.
It was like an adoring puppy, an overenthusiastic playmate.
I was compelled to break the “no touching” rule.
It let me rub its back, its side… then its stomach. It played with my tank, sat on my back…
It pulled at my remaining strands of hair. It swam all around me.
Eventually I could even scratch its throat -- except for the fact that it took my fingers in its mouth and playfully, gently nibbled on them every time.

This was the sweetest animal you’ve ever seen! Playful, fun, excited, endearing, enthusiastic, curious. Trusting … and generous with its time!

It was such an amazing encounter, lasting over an hour, the bond so strong I basically fell in love!
I was literally miserable, floored, feeling the physical pain of heartbreak, my chest sunken in, when it wasn’t there on the next dive.

One interesting thing about this frame, which I immediately hung in my apartment after the trip, is that it was one of the very last photographs I saw while reviewing my images on the boat after the dive. It was the happiest surprise! Nearly everything I’d seen up until that point was fairly mediocre, failed to capture the excitement and emotion of the experience and/or failed to please the eye. Then all of a sudden, at the very end of my review (one of maybe the last 6 images), this picture appeared. And it couldn’t have been nicer.

The sea lions at Los Islotes, which I’ve visited three times now, are truly endearing and amusing. As with so many animals, humpback whales included, the young are usually the most fun.

This encounter was undoubtedly one of my top 5 of all time. Absolutely unforgettable.

Curious and immensely playful Sea Lion pup, inverted
Los Islotes, close to La Paz in Mexico, April 2014

Encounter with my second most playful sea lion from Los Islotes.
This one was a little less familiar than “Isa sea lion”, the one named after my dog Isabella.
Whilst it didn’t bite when I crossed its approachable distance boundary, it did threaten to more than once and backed away a bit several times.

It still stayed very close and, memorably, remained upside down on the surface for most of the encounter.

Another puppy of the sea and real thrill…

Goofy and chinless Sea Lion or “Sometimes you cut off the chin”
at the Los Islotes colony near La Paz in Mexico, January 2014

I don’t think this juvenile, too big to be a very young pup, could have posed better or been more amusing.
It’s a shame its chin is cut off… but I blame the sea lion, not my shooting!
Sometimes events happen so fast that you don’t have time to frame things perfectly.
And sometimes the lens you have on or amount you’ve zoomed prevents you from getting something “perfect”.
I don’t think this pinniped would care that its portrait could have turned out better…

Playful Sea Lion, contorted
Mexico, March 2016

I love this shot.
Particularly how everything just fits in the frame. And the chaotic but playful shape, the ever-conscious eye.

This may be the best playing sea lion in my collection…

I love the rock behind the lobo marino, too.

This image is probably from a Mission Blue expedition with my friend Shari and with the great Sylvia Earle.
We tried to go to Cabo Pulmo three different times – the first two times a storm was slowly chasing our boat.
A hundred miles away but continually moving up the coast as we were. We were supposed to go and celebrate the 20th anniversary
Of Pulmo as a reserve – a “no-catch” area that experienced a 400 percent biomass increase after becoming protected.
Sylvia also wanted to give away some snorkelling equipment to local children; and we were all to help them learn to snorkel.

One thing people tend not to know is that sea lions are quite different to seals: “ Seals and sea lions are marine mammals called 'pinnipeds' that differ in physical characteristics and adaptations. Sea lions are brown, bark loudly, "walk" on land using their large flippers and have visible ear flaps. Seals have small flippers, wriggle on their bellies on land, and lack visible ear flaps.”

Adorable Fur Seal pup at Cape Douglas in the Galapagos, May 2016

They have an extra layer of fur compared to Sea Lions…
“Fur Seals have a thick layer of blubber beneath their skin. It helps them float. It also acts as insulation. Along with their fur coats, the blubber protects them from the cold ocean temperatures.”
“In the Eared Seal family there are 2 subfamilies, the Fur Seals and the Sea Lions. Most of them look similar, and genetic wise they are closely related. The features to distinguish them from each other are that fur seals have a much thicker fur than sea lions.”

Fur Seal pup on the rocks at Cape Douglas
– the largest Marine Iguana colony – in the Galapagos, May 2016

You can see a marine iguana, which exist only in the Galapagos, in the upper left corner.

I loved how shiny the fur seal pups were when wet. It made for very nice images as well.

We saw loads of fur seal pups and a few young sea lions on the rocks at Cape Douglas.
Unfortunately we also saw a large number of dead iguanas due to El Nino that year.

The most amazing - and rarest - sight there may actually have been the 8-12 sea turtles we saw warming themselves by taking sun on a beach.

Possibly the proudest-looking parent I’ve ever seen…
This family of Sea Lions in the Galapagos in May 2016 was in an ideal situation – perfect setting, spacing and interaction between Individuals… and great attitudes

These pinnipeds were just outside what was a recently identified rather large mangrove area that was full of life and had immediately become known for the turtles within. The visibility inside was terrible and the few turtles we saw very skittish – difficult to shoot. But this small sea lion group was just there – right where you enter and exit the mangrove – and delightful.

We had hurried into the mangroves (taken no time to observe the sea lion family on the way in) so it was nice to watch and photograph them calmly afterwards. The boat was close by, a short swim away, so there was no need to rush.

Bubbly adult male sea lion
You know it’s an adult male because of the big bumpy head.
La Paz, Mexico, August 2018

I was warned, on my first trip, against approaching big males or, more importantly, the females and young they’re actively overseeing. The big males can be very protective.

My friends and I were also told that sea lions give 3 warnings before they’d do anything to hurt you.
Warning one: they’ll blow bubbles at/for you (humpback whales do this among each other sometimes… frequently when males are competing for the same female).
Warning two: they bare their teeth, popping their mouths open and snapping them closed – as if they’re pretending to bite.
Warning three: they circle or rush you.

Let me put it to you this way: if you didn’t see the bubbles AND you didn’t understand the bite mimicking then you aren’t observant enough, don’t understand obvious signals and probably deserve to be bitten!
Since my first sea lion dives, I’ve taught myself to stay away from big foreheads.

“Just swimming through”
La Paz, Mexico, August 2018

A sea lion in a standard position.

Moving mummy hug
La Paz, Mexico, August 2018

One of the most touching moments, no pun intended.

These 2 sea lions were in a group of about 8 all moving at the same time and in different directions.
Among the chaos, this duo seemed connected and even purposeful. The ride came out of nowhere – it was as sudden as it was spectacular. Despite trying to take about 12 shots, only this one turned out very well.
It happened too fast to do much better and that specific lens wasn’t ideal for the situation.
It would be nicer if there were more space at the top of the frame...

“Scratchy scratchy!” or “Large female Sea Lion scratching her back on the rocks”
at the small colony at Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, August 2018

She alternated between scratching her back intently and playfully – nearly coyly -- observing me.

Our guide last summer told us that that colony is bigger at a different time of year.
There were only about 8-12 sea lions there last August.

I think this was a female...

The water at the colony is very shallow, at most maybe 8 meters deep.
The side of the rocks closest to shore, where this lady was, was in the shadows; Most of my images were very dark,
And needed some lightening up.

This marine mammal was really fun to watch and photograph. Every now and again she’d stop scratching, move away a few meters,
Come back and start again!

Surface shenanigans!
Sea Lions in top shapes
La Paz, Mexico, August 2018

The lovely sea lion family I came upon after the wonderful swim with a manta ray that never left my side — both encounters described in another SEA LIONS caption here.

This couldn’t have been a better morning! Moreover, I think it was the penultimate – or even last – day of our trip!

Very few things compare to calm and composed, trusting subjects. With the stress of an animal fleeing not there and the difficulty of some subjects removed, a photo session becomes extremely relaxing and personally rewarding.

“Look at me” or “Hey, check me out”
La Paz, Mexico, August 2018

Sea Lion pup at the surface. Hard to know whether it was showing off, playing or just trying to get a good look.

Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, August 2018

Sea Lion family at the surface close to La Paz, Mexico, August 2018

They let me move around them for minutes…

My friends and I had been diving with sea lions for several days by then. But many of my images were a bit blurry – sea lions are FAST and move unpredictably. You can’t guess where or in what position they’ll be a few seconds after you plan a shot.
Despite wonderful opportunities nearly no shots were great.

BUT this particular morning I had a 10-minute or more swim with a manta ray at the surface.

I’d seen mantas dozens of times – but only been close to them by chance…
I knew they are intelligent fish – with the biggest proportional brain size of all and, reportedly, the ability to recognize individual divers, as well as demonstrate gratitude to people who have disentangled them from nets.
An incredible swim with a big manta, which stayed no more than three or four meters away at any time, was MORE than enough to make up for mediocre photographs of blurring sea lions.
One can tell with an animal like that, an animal that’s watching you the whole time, never straying and never fleeing at top speed, that it has intelligence. You just sense it. Every minute you’re thinking how lucky you are and how wonderful and beautiful the animal is.

I stumbled upon the sea lions above as I was about to leave the manta ray, after photographing this amazing creature like mad
(200 images? You can’t always help yourself when it’s that good — and when things aren’t rushed)

The sea lions were visible from some distance away and, as I swam to them, the manta came into my frame a few times as well, making for very nice photographs.

It was a family of pinnipeds just sitting at the surface, resting and joyful. Sea lions, like dolphins, nearly always look joyful.
There were two or three adults and one smaller individual. Perhaps two parents and a child or two parents, a child, and an aunt or friend.
I got very close to them indeed, but still hesitated a bit: adult males protect and defend their mates and offspring. Sometimes vehemently.
But these guys were very calm. No one seemed bothered at all. Napping and dreaming, floating about.
I stayed about 4 meters away and photographed them for a number of minutes.
FINALLY I got good shots of sea lions in La Paz – and not at Los Islotes, my usual spot – which made up for the hundreds of mediocre images from the days before.

The whiskers make all the difference... A Sea Lion comes out of the darkness
Cabo Pulmo, August 2018

I wasn’t expecting to find a good photograph in that folder: everything had come out very dark since we were in the shade of the huge rock above. But then I saw this image and became happy...

Large male Sea Lion, fat head and all, cruising around…
Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, August 2018