|Pucker up, baby.|
I was told they'd probably find me before I found them. We were at the north end of renowned Browning Passage, at a site known as Croker Rock, or the wreck of the Themis. The kelp-covered pinnacle holds the wreckage of the 270-foot-long freighter that went down in a winter storm in December 1906. What remains of the ship is barely distinguishable from the rocks and boulders. There are a few steel plates, a winch and some pieces of the mast, but after nearly a century, the vessel is completely overgrown with encrusting marine life. With their polyps extended in the current, masses of soft pink coral look like cotton candy. Giant orange sea stars dot the old wreckage like fat sunflowers.
As we neared the bottom at 70 feet, I felt like something was watching me. Turning, I was startled to see a face that looked like a cross between Oscar the Grouch and an old baked potato: a face that only a mother wolf eel or diver could love. Rubbing against my arm, the puffy-headed wolf eel clearly wanted to be petted, and just like a dog, kept coming back whenever I stopped.
You'll find wolf eels at a number of dive sites in British Columbia. They are very territorial (look for mated pairs in small caves and crevices in the colorful walls) and exceedingly friendly toward divers. Petting is considered OK, but be careful with the rough surface on the fingers of your gloves and use the back of your hand to rub their bellies. Better yet, remove your glove altogether.
Wolf eels have thick, sharp canine teeth and large molars designed for crushing hard-shelled animals like clams, crabs and their favorite, spiky red urchins. Some divers like to break open an urchin to feed the eel-like fish. If you want to try this, wait until after you take your photos, as greedy kelp greenlings will swarm in for the leftovers.
On the way back up, you can spend your safety stop in the bull kelp with fearless black rockfish swimming around in an underwater dance. By any standard, the sleek rockfish are prettier than the wolf eels, but their beauty is only scale-deep. They lack the puppy-dog personalities that make wolf eel encounters so much fun.
|Pink anemones decorate the rocky crevices where wolf eels nest in the waters off British Columbia.|
Dive In: Port Hardy, British Columbia
LOCATION: The wreck of the Themis is located in Queen Charlotte Strait, off Port Hardy on the north end of Vancouver Island. Land-based dive operators and live-aboards ply the area.
WATER CONDITIONS: Average water temperatures are in the mid-40Fs, with seasonal variations from 42F in May to 49F in the fall.
SEASON: Most diving is done May through October.
DIVE PROFILE: Most sites are dived as drifts, executed during slack tide. Advanced certification and experience in both cold water and drift diving is recommended.
ESSENTIAL GEAR: A dry suit will keep you comfortable in these chilly waters. A dive light will enhance the vibrant colors and help you to find wolf eel dens.
DIVE OPERATORS: Clavella Adventures, (877) 725-2835. God's Pocket Resort, (888) 534-8322, web: www.godspocket.com. Mamro Adventures, (250) 756-8872, web: www.mamro.com. Nautilus Explorer, (604) 657-7614.