Victoria snorkeler gets up close with unique sea creature: ‘I had no idea what this thing was’


As the sun shines bright at Victoria’s Clover Point, it’s a calling for some to get out and explore the surrounding waters.

“It was last weekend, and it was super nice out,” recalled Steph Brulot, a University of Victoria student and avid snorkeler, in an interview Sunday.

But when he and his brother jumped into the Salish Sea, they were stunned by what they soon encountered — a spiral-shaped creature rarely seen this close to shore.

“He immediately saw this crazy-looking creature and called me over. So I swam over there as quickly as I could, and I pretty quickly realized that I had no idea what this thing was,” he said.

Brulot took photos of what they saw and quickly posted them on before sharing them on a local Facebook page. Then, comments flooded in.

“They were pretty quick to identify it as a giant siphonophore,” he said.

According to Anna Hall, a marine mammal zoologist based out of Metchosin, a siphonophore is “typically a creature that is found in much, much deeper waters, away from the sunlight.”

She’s fascinated by them — even more so after learning of Brulot’s face-to-face encounter with one.

“So some parts (of the siphonophore) are dedicated more to locomotion, other parts to capturing prey. And they are really quite effective predators,” she said.

The impressive jellyfish-like invertebrate has made the deep sea its stomping ground. The one Brulot saw was about two feet long, but some have been documented at an estimated 130 feet, or 40 metres, in length.

“They’re really amazing creatures,” said Hall.

“We often think of the blue whale as being the largest animal on the planet or the largest animal that’s ever lived. But, in fact, the siphonophore can exceed the length of a blue whale.”

‘I was very excited’

Given where Brulot spotted it, his photos are seldom seen, especially during a normal, everyday dive not far from land.

“I’m always looking for things that look a little bit different. I’m looking for the things I haven’t seen before. When I saw it, I was very excited,” he said.

“As it floated by, there was a current, so it wasn’t just staying in one place. It was kind of on the move.”

For Hall, seeing it not far from the water’s surface is something to think about.

“It is very interesting,” she added. “I don’t know if it’s due to El Niño…what effects that may have on creatures.”

El Niño “can be distinguished when the surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific extending westward from Ecuador become warmer than average,” according to the Government of Canada.

In moments like Brulot’s, Hall reminds people to respect animals and to keep their distance, adding, “Give the animals the same respect we would give our terrestrial creatures.”

The waters surrounding Vancouver Island are home to an abundance of marine wildlife. In fact, “we have one of the highest densities in the world,” she noted.

So Hall encourages people to treasure experiences and document and share their findings, just like Brulot did.

“We just had the opportunity to have a glimpse into the deep of one of the amazing invertebrates that live well beyond the sunlit zone of our coastal waters.”

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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