A Brief Encounter – A Lasting Memory by Rebecca Gibson

Our university trip to the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland was looking like it would be a day of unforgettable wildlife encounters. We boarded the boat kitted out in wetsuits, boots, hoods and clutching snorkels in gloved hands.

There was a buzz of excited conversation as we moved out into open water, scanning the surface for wildlife. I twisted in my seat at every glimpse of wings, spotting Manx shearwater, razorbill, guillemot and a group of four gannets that flew low over the boat.

Before long we reached a widespread rocky outcrop where the boat stopped to let us out into the sea. One by one, we pulled on fins and adjusted masks. When it was my turn, I waddled penguin-like to the back of the boat and took a hesitant jump off.

Cold water hit me like a fist and I suddenly couldn’t breathe. I was filled with a very unfamiliar panic that I had never felt in water before. I was lifted back onto the boat and the skipper told me my over-sized hood had risen up over my mouth and my mask had filled with water. Feeling very sheepish, I calmed my breathing and tried again.

My second attempt was more successful. Once I had regained my balance, I glanced up and saw another of our group bobbing in the water. However, the whiskers made me look twice and I realised the human was in fact a grey seal. I looked around, discovering I was surrounded.

Seals were everywhere, gazing with inquisitive expressions and large blinking eyes. The animal closest to me flared its nostrils in a snort, spraying me with what I hoped was seawater. After holding my gaze for a few long and intense moments, it ducked underwater. I hastily stuffed my snorkel in my mouth and peered down, watching it glide effortlessly out of the kelp.

Having only seen seals in their comedic banana positions on land so far, it was incredible to now see them in their element. With a kick of its flippers, the seal barrel-rolled in the water, brushing against me. Astonished, I could only watch as the seal nibbled my fin then wrapped its flippers around my leg, squeezing gently.

At first I was a little alarmed, especially when the seal opened its jaws and I saw a glimpse of long white canines. But as I watched, I realised the animal was not being aggressive but simply curious. Bizarrely similar to my own pet dog, it didn’t bite but just placed its teeth on my leg, gazing up at me with its huge eyes. I fell instantly in love, hardly believing what was happening.

Just as quickly as it had appeared the seal was gone, swimming down into the gloom and leaving me dumbstruck at the surface. While any encounter with a wild animal is special, it was even more exciting to share a completely new world with one; a world I never normally got the chance to be a part of.

As much as I hated to admit it, my hands were already beginning to grow numb, so I waved to the skipper and got back on the boat to warm up. It was then that I remembered I had been clutching a GoPro in my hand the entire time. For a moment I was devastated that I hadn’t captured my encounter on film.

But, as I huddled in my towel and replayed what had happened in my head, I was soon glad that I had forgotten about the GoPro. I hadn’t been distracted by technology or watched through a screen. I had simply been there, part of that animal’s world for one of the briefest and most precious moments of my life.

This story was originally published on www.rebeccaonthewing.com.

About the Entry

  • Blogger name | Rebecca Gibson
  • Site name | On The Wing
  • Site URL | www.rebeccaonthewing.com
  • Twitter @RebeccaGibson28
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  • Why should someone visit your site? “On The Wing” is a collection of field notes, photography and personal reflections where I share my love of wildlife and aim to inspire others. My goal is to appeal to existing wildlife enthusiasts and newcomers to nature to encourage even greater involvement in the natural world. I cover a range of topics – from the history of fly agaric fungi to observations from a chilly bird hide – and use a descriptive style to place the reader in the moment with me.
  • Entry Number | 26

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