He had been warned before diving in. They told him that he wouldn’t know what to expect when he was deep in the water. That there were wild animals waiting to pounce on trespassers. He didn’t believe them. Yet here he was, surrounded and outnumbered.
Things looked dire. Until he looked up and saw it. Then his panic began to fade. The seal was trying to tell him something.
Gary Grayson had grown up obsessed with the deep blue sea. As a child, he would torment his parents by sticking on the same ocean life documentary over and over again. ‘I’m going to be a marine biologist,’ Gary would say. While that didn’t quite pan out for the adult Gary, he had the next best thing.
Diving was a rewarding and enriching hobby for him. And he had a special trip coming up.
As a 40th birthday surprise present, Gary’s friends booked a scuba vacation in the Isles of Scilly. Gary had no shortage of diving experience. He had dived around the world, from Mexico to Cuba, encountering giant manta rays and other creatures along the way.
But there was a special reason he wanted to visit these waters off the coast of Cornwall.
Gary was a treasure hunter of sorts. He believed that there were unclaimed goods at the bottom of the ocean begging to be discovered. The Isles of Scilly were said to have shipwrecked jewels hidden on the seabed. But they were also believed to have things that you would not want to discover.
Gary had heard tales but he didn’t know how true they were. The tales spoke of creatures. The unpleasant, almost mythical kind.
You don’t need to be David Attenborough to know that the creatures at the bottom of the sea look scary. Being deprived of light will do weird things to an organism. Tales of a giant squid with arms so long that it bordered on the ridiculous were common around the Isle of Scilly. But these were tall tales.
What Gary feared was meeting a creature that could be found in the clear water.
A more pressing concern for Gary than mythical creatures was the very real and very big fish that have migrated due to the effects of global warming. New research shows different shark breeds could head to waters around England to combat rising ocean temperatures.
Gary knew of one animal that had been legitimately spotted in those waters. One with lots of teeth.
Different sharks had been spotted in the waters off of the Isles of Scilly. Porbeagle and Thresher sharks were among them. While these rarely pose threats to humans, there was an account of a fisherman being decapitated by a tail swipe. This worried Gary and he knew he would need to be careful.
He didn’t want to end up on the list of people to have gone missing in those waters. He had to make sure to pack one thing.
After making sure he had his fins and ticking every other required item from the checklist, Gary joined his pals for a scuba session.
The waters were clear and they allowed them to see the contents of the sea. They saw reefs and colourful coral. They saw wrecks and ruins from a bygone era. The experience was a fun and illuminating one. That was until visitors showed up. Then it became something different.
Gary saw the shadow before he saw what cast it. The sheer size of it frightened him, so he tried to spin around as fast as he could in the water.
He could hardly believe his eyes. It was a seal. And he wasn’t alone. There was a brigade of them and they were coming fast.
Gary was frozen to the spot. He had been warned about the wild animals of the ocean being unpredictable. Now he understood.
These seals had come from nowhere. Now they were surrounded. And although the seals had sweet faces and calm expressions, Gary knew that their mood could change in a heartbeat. ‘We’re in their territory now,’ Gary thought. But then his panic melted away. The seals wanted to show him something.
Seals can be very heavy creatures, weighing up to 450 pounds. However, Gary noticed that these seals were smaller than usual. The reason? They were pups.
And a blind man could tell from their behaviour that they were pups. They wanted to show Gary that they were playful. Although Gary was thrilled on the inside, he didn’t want to show it on the outside. He wondered how far the mother could be if the pups were here. Then he got his answer.
Gary waited for the mother to show up but she never came. All the while, the pups were rubbing themselves against him and touching him with their flippers.
Gary was petting them gently and even holding hands with some of them. It felt impossible to turn away their sweet faces. He hoped he wouldn’t regret letting his guard down. Then, when he was least expecting it, he felt the jaws of a pup close around his hand.
Gary thought he was in trouble when he felt the seal’s jaws close on his hand. He was already thinking of where he could get prosthetic replacements. But the crunch of a bite never came. Instead, it was gentle gnawing. These pups knew their own strength and they wanted to show that they meant no harm.
In a moment of what Gary would later call cartoonish overkill, the same seal appeared to be smiling proudly at him. Then its expression changed.
The seal pulled away from Gary. The smile dropped. It was as though the seal had been sent for a greater mission and now he was remembering it.
He took Gary by the hand and appeared to motion for him to follow. Gary wanted to know what it was that the seal wanted to show him.
The seal let go of Gary’s hand and lay on its back. ‘Wow,’ he thought to himself ‘these guys really are the dogs of the sea.’
He knew what the seal wanted before they parted. No further communication was required. Gary obligingly rubbed the seal’s belly and threw in a few chin scratches for good measure. It was the least he could do for such a good boy.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.