An old hand at aquatic adventure, 55-year-old Gary Grayson has been scuba diving many times before – yet this underwater encounter was unlike anything he had ever experienced. The seal approached him, and Grayson wasn’t expecting anything other than a brief glimpse as the creature passed. But then something truly amazing happened which – if he hadn’t been wearing a mask – would have left him breathless.
Grayson lives in Worsley, part of the city of Salford, near Manchester in the north of the U.K. And although he is a businessman in his everyday life, Grayson has another side to his identity: thrill-seeker. His high-octane hobbies include motorbike riding, skydiving and – obviously – deep-sea diving.
And while he’s experiencing life in the fast lane, Grayson likes to act as a videographer for his various adventures. Diving seems to be taking over as his main passion, though, and a below-the-waves encounter of recent years has lent him a degree of fame in the sub-sea game.
In 2014 Grayson was diving off the Scilly Isles, to the southwest of Cornwall in the U.K., where he had a chance meeting that was not only unexpected but totally unforgettable. Fortunately, too, Grayson and his team captured the event on camera to share with the world.
Grayson uploaded the video to his YouTube channel on August 1, 2014, and it subsequently went viral. During his recorded dive, Grayson comes face-to-face with an especially forward Atlantic gray seal. And while he had seen the mammals many times before, he never expected to be this close to one.
Speaking to his local newspaper, the Manchester Evening News, Grayson said, “I had seen other seals in the water, but they just buzzed past us. None was as inquisitive as he was.” What’s more, after he came over to investigate Grayson, the mammal’s curiosity only grew.
Then, suddenly, the seal put his face right up against Grayson’s mask. Initially, he took an interest in the diver’s equipment — and particularly the bubbles coming from his breathing apparatus. The seal seemed fascinated by the stream of froth jetting into the water.
But it was when the seal lost interest in the bubbles that something remarkable happened. Grayson felt something close around his hand, and when he looked down, the seal was grasping it in his webbed flipper. It looked like the diver had made a new friend.
That seemingly the case, Grayson shook hands with the seal, but he couldn’t have predicted what happened next. It appeared that the seal wanted something from the diver and so nibbled lightly at his hand as if to keep his attention. Then the seal did something incredible.
As Grayson petted the seal, the mammal rolled around in the water and presented his tummy to him. The adorable sea creature was acting just like a playful puppy – and he even wanted a belly rub! Later on, the adventurer gave the experience his wholehearted seal of approval.
“I’m an experienced diver, but I have never known anything like that,” Grayson told the Manchester Evening News. “I’ve been all over the world, to Mexico and Cuba, to dive with great big mantas and sharks. But this was certainly up there with anything I have ever done.”
The internet certainly loved watching the sea creature enjoy Grayson’s affection; to date, the video has received more than 10 million views. “This is wonderful,” one commenter said. “No matter what creature we may be, sometimes we just want to have our belly rubbed, back scratched or a hug.”
And while few would argue that the mammal’s antics in the video aren’t adorable, other viewers offered an alternative opinion. “Actually, [seals] are wild animals. While it is okay to let them come up and make contact, it’s generally bad to pet them or otherwise encourage contact,” another YouTuber said. “Not all humans are as kind to seals.”
So where does the truth lie? As is often the case, it is somewhere between the two viewpoints. Ally McMillan, director of the charity Seal Rescue Ireland, based in County Wexford, Ireland, spoke to The Huffington Post on the subject in September 2015.
“[This seal] is part of a colony where divers dive on a regular basis,” she explained. “And so the seals have become – obviously – very used to people and allow them very close. Not all seals are like this and if approached could well cause harm if they feel threatened.
“[This is] due to their large size and very sharp teeth. Wildlife are better off being left wild,” McMillan added. So while in Grayson’s case the encounter was totally unthreatening, unless you’re with experts, contact is not encouraged. It’s not just for your own safety, either.
Some human contact may pose a threat to trusting seals. Laura Sherr, public relations liaison at veterinarian research facility The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, confirmed McMillan’s opinion. “Here at the center, we are very invested in ensuring that wild animals stay wild,” she said.
“About 15 percent of our patients come in because of the direct result of human interaction… [such as] a gunshot wound, illegal pick-ups [and] entanglements,” Sherr added. She further explained that seals and humans share communicable diseases that can cross species.
Despite these facts, however, Grayson’s encounter was an amazing one that most people will never have the opportunity to experience. And he didn’t just make one friend, either. Even as the first seal said goodbye, a second mammal tried to get his attention by climbing his leg.
“I’ve seen interaction with other guys and girls under the water, when they’ve had their fins nibbled or they’ve been buzzed by seals,” Grayson told Cornish radio station Pirate FM, “but never any interaction such as I got on the day. I was very, very fortunate. It was just a very emotional, humbling experience.”
Some sea animals just can’t resist the opportunity to come and say “hello” to the adventurous humans exploring the ocean, can they? When Laura and Rich Howard went diving to celebrate their anniversary in Mexico, they were ordered back onto the boat within minutes. And after looking out across the water, the couple realized why. A school of enormous creatures was making their way towards them.
The Howards live in Lutz, Florida, with their children, Zach and Rachael. As a family, they share a passion for marine life, and all four have tons of diving experience. Rich’s love for the ocean was actually inspired by famous French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
He told WFLA news in 2013, “I was five or six years old [when I] got my first book from Jacques Cousteau. I’ve just loved the ocean ever since.” So when Laura and Rich wanted to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in 2011, they just knew that they had to do so underwater.
To mark the couple’s marriage milestone, then, they jetted south to La Paz in Mexico. Situated on the Sea of Cortez, La Paz has excellent diving opportunities and is home to an array of marine life, including dolphins, sea lions and manta rays.
Now, given that Laura and Rich run their own underwater photography business, Oceans of Images, they usually turn up for dives equipped with cameras. And luckily, their trip to La Paz was no different. For it was then that the couple would experience one of their most amazing encounters to date.
Yes, on one particular dive during the anniversary trip, Laura and Rich were delighted to meet some curious sea lions. But just as they were starting to get to know the marine animals, their dive master made an announcement.
Revealing what had happened, Laura told CNN in 2013, “Just at the very beginning of the dive, a dive master comes down. [They] start tapping and saying, ‘Dive’s over, dive’s over.’ And we were like, ‘What?’” However, all was about to become clear.
For only when Laura and Rich got to the safety of the boat did they realize that beasts of the deep were tracking them. Yes, it appeared that a pod of whales, numbering around 20, had spotted the divers. And now they had the couple’s vessel in their sights.
In video footage taken by the couple at the time, a number of massive dorsal fins cut through the waves. And it’s clear that the animals are heading directly towards them. At that point, though, Laura and Rich were still in the dark as to just what was chasing them.
Laura later revealed to CNN what she had believed might appear. She recalled, “I thought, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a humpback, it’s going to be a sperm whale.’ Something that we’ll see from a distance.” So when the mom-of-two had realized that she’d actually been looking at killer whales, she must have been surprised.
And if that hadn’t been a shock for Laura, her proximity to the giant mammals certainly would have been. Because, as seen in the footage, the couple’s boat speeds off, and the killer whale pod gains ground. Suddenly, in fact, the orcas are swimming right up beside them, frolicking in the boat’s wake.
Describing just how close the whales got, Rich explained, “It was amazing to see that because they were maybe six [or] eight inches off the back of the boat. Every time they’d come up for a breath of air, they would spray you.”
And as Laura watched the incredible scenes unfold, she tried desperately to capture the whales on her camera. Pointing at a viewing window on the device in 2013, she told CNN, “You could see through here, but it was still kind of hard.”
However, little did Laura know that she’d captured some of the most magical footage of her life that day. In it, both she and Rich audibly shriek in delight as a steady stream of whales emerge from the water around them.
And according to Laura, it wasn’t just the anniversary couple who were enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime moment. “I really feel that [the orcas] were getting as much excitement [from] me screaming and making a big deal as they were having fun,” she revealed.
Reportedly, the whales followed Laura and Rich’s boat for 60 joyous minutes, leaping out of the water beside them like dolphins. They even apparently sprayed their audience with their blowholes and somersaulted in the water as if they were putting on a spectacular show.
Laura later gushed when describing the scenes, “They were spinning [and] jumping. One of them stuck with us the longest and would flip on their side and literally look up at me.” And there was something that had made the experience even more special for the diver. It was, you see, the first time that she’d seen them in real life.
Interestingly, killer whales – otherwise known as orcas – are incredibly social mammals and exist in family units called pods. The members of each pod travel together to find food, but the individuals can find time to play together, too, as Laura and Rich discovered.
Needless to say, then, that the orcas provided Laura and Rich with a 20th wedding anniversary they would never forget. “The actual video doesn’t do it justice; when you were there and looking the water was so clear,” Rich revealed.
The occasion was even more special because orca sightings in the area are extremely rare. And thanks to their video, the couple can relive that day whenever they want. “It’s really something that reminds me of this wonderful experience that we were so blessed and lucky to have happen to us,” Laura said.