Had an article about encounters with sea lions in the Singapore Straits Times, Life! section for the Spring Sensations travel supplement on 13 February, pp 8-9. Text below:
Laughing with lions
Frisky sea lions charm and amuse marine photographer Tony Wu at Carnac Island in Perth, Australia.
Picture yourself in clear, shallow water, the white sand on the sea floor alternating with patches of sea grass. There is sun and blue sky above, sea birds calling in the air.
A slumbering sea lion stirs on the beach and waddles to the sea.
Headfirst, it plunges into the water, slipping through the surf with the grace of a ballet dancer. You follow the animal's dark form easily against the sand.
You stand up, make a few splashing sounds with your flippers, and quicker than you can pull your mask over your face, you notice a cuddly curious sea lion — whiskers and all — just a few centimetres away from you.
You duck your head under the water and notice that it is a young pup, perhaps three to four years of age, blond-beige in colour, with big chocolate-brown eyes that melt your heart. It reminds you of an inquisitive labrador retriever puppy.
Nose-first, the sea lion glides towards you, veering at the last second in a graceful loop, flapping its front flippers to propel itself through the water in a big arc and ending up right in front of you again.
Around and around the sea lion goes. Soon you are joined by another sea lion, this time an older bull, which does not move quite as frantically as the young pup, but still displays the trademark curiosity of these animals.
Staying near the surface, it floats towards you, occasionally sticking its nose out of the water to breathe.
You jump in surprise as the younger sea lion unexpectedly appears underneath you, confronting you face-to-mask, planting a quick kiss on your forehead as if to say: "Welcome to my world."
Determined to engage these playful mammals, you swim frantically towards them. They jump clear of the water and splash down beside you, taunting you to join them for a game of tag, and it is all you can do to keep them in sight.
They may disappear into the blue, but they almost always come back. Often, they will slow the pace down to let you catch your breath, resting patiently on the sandy bottom, watching you with their puppy-dog eyes.
The younger one rolls over and wiggles from side to side to scratch its back on the sand, like a little bear rubbing against a tree. It is a comical sight and you cannot help but laugh, releasing a stream of bubbles into the water. The pup looks up and responds in kind, with a burst of bubbles in your general direction.
Congratulations. You have just had your first sea lion conversation.
If this sounds like an adventure you would like to have, head to Perth in Western Australia, take a 20- to 30-minute drive to the port town of Fremantle, then a relaxing 30-minute ride to Carnac Island, which lies 10km off the mainland.
The bay on Carnac Island where sea lions congregate has shallow, protected waters where you can snorkel, and even if you do not, the water is shallow enough in many places for you to stand.
When visiting this pinniped playground, it is worth keeping in mind that the sea lions are wild and not trained performers, so it is not appropriate to harass them or expect them to perform on cue.
Do not worry, though. I can tell you from personal experience that the sea lions are incredibly playful. All you have to do is show up.
When the mood strikes them, these inquisitive animals will have you frolicking and giggling like a school kid at an amusement park.
Getting to Carnac Island: To book a day trip to visit the sea lions, contact West Australia Dive Center at 37 Barrack Street, Perth WA 6000, Australia.
Tel: +618-9421-1883. Email: [email protected]