Night Swimming | Sea Lions take over La Jolla Cove

A fellow diver recently posted video from a night dive during which the sea lions were using his dive light to hunt by, and upon seeing it, I became obsessed. Since we had already booked a babysitter for Valentine's night, we thought: what better time to try our hand at nighttime free diving?

I had gone nighttime free-diving twice before in Mission Bay under the guise of hunting lobster (unsuccessfully), but doing so on a moonless night in the Cove during a decent surge event was something altogether different. I wouldn't advise it. We probably should've called the dive when we showed up and conditions looked rough, but so the story goes... when you have the dive bug, it's hard to get rid of it any other way than by diving.

See our video, here:

This is not to say that it wasn't a spectacular event, especially for me with my love of sea lions. I had long suspected that they took over the Cove at night when all the humans went away, but I am always miles away in Poway when night really falls so I could never be sure.

Upon nearing the bottom of the stairs descending to the Cove, we found this giant matriarch whom I now refer to as The Boss. She was splayed across the entire bottom stair platform like so:

We asked her so nicely if we could pass.

It would seem that she viewed us as two other sea lions looking to challenge her throne!

Now people are permitted to use this stairwell, but this is a protected Marine Reserve, so the animals may not be touched. Not that you would want to, but I always do. And the grumpier she was, the more I thought she needed petting! But no, we just wore her down with persistent, polite requests.

This is her relenting, but not without telling us that she was really comfortable where she was and didn't really want to move:

The water was ROUGH. The worst part was not having any benefit of moonlight so I couldn't see the random overhead barrels rolling through. One clipped me before I could see it and I decided that coupled with the terrible visibility (and the fact that all the fun was happening on shore), we should make a swim for it and try to perfectly time our beach exit.

Appreciating shore:

And there was a lot of fun on shore. The sea lions were lolling in the surf en masse, and because we were the only two humans (and also in wetsuits and keeping a low profile - this is key!), they didn't leave us.

I stayed down on my knees and kept creeping closer and closer to the large group that had assembled to stare at the bright spotlights that some people up above were shining down on them. It was almost as if they thought a tiny spot of sun had peeped out of the night sky for them to bask in.

When the person above moved the light erratically, the sea lions would sometimes get riled up and give chase into the water. Then come out again. Quite simply, they appeared to be freaking each other out for fun.

Finally we decided to wrap up our beach experience and shower for a nice dinner. You won't be surprised to learn that The Boss was right back on her throne, and was perhaps even MORE reluctant to let us pass the second time around than when we first showed up.

A small crowd of tourists had gathered to watch more closely on the stairs, and coupled with the various sea lion challengers, The Boss was entrenched.

I'd be lying if I told you that these photos of her telling the old man to "get lost" in sea lion-ese didn't make me cry tears of laughter!

He even tried to go around the other way... I could have told him that wouldn't work either!

She got up in her own time. The Boss continues to rule the La Jolla Cove.

Thanks for looking!


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