Diving Canada's Quadra Island
by Andy Murch
February 16, 2004
While the debate on spiny dogfish quotas rages on along America's eastern seaboard, divers heading to Canada's Gulf Islands will find more dogfish than one can shake
an Atlantic salmon at.
Nestled between Vancouver Island and the Canadian mainland, Quadra Island boasts some of the most colorful and intense nontropical diving in the world. Once
a sleepy fishing community, Quadra Island now caters to weekend divers looking for thrills and chills as they are swept along dramatic walls bristling with
strawberry anemones and bright orange cup corals, past wide eyed lingcod and giant Pacific octopus. But the highlight of any diver's trip to Quadra is the
chance to swim with schooling dogfish, and, during the months of July and August, the dogfish don't let them down.
We traveled north from Victoria and jumped on the ferry across to Quadra Island to hook up with Mike Richmond of DynaMike Dive Charters. Mike has been diving
Quadra Island, on and off, for the last 30 years. A few years ago he built a lodge for those intrepid divers prepared to brave these cold, current swept
waters. And after having sampled the spectacular walls, we were eager to dive with the dogfish.
For some of us this was our first shark encounter and a great way to get up close and personal with a "Jaws" scaled down to non-threatening size. Like many
in our group, Jill Yoneda felt excited but a little apprehensive as Mike pulled up to his favorite spot. We tethered to a mooring to stop the ever present
current from dragging us away, and Mike pulled out a salmon-filled mesh bag. As he explained, this was to be a freestyle shark feeding experience. One of
us would head down the anchor line and settle onto the bottom with a goody bag full of salmon. The rest of us would follow, helping ourselves to the bait
as we desired. It sounded pretty straightforward and, one by one, we jumped in and dragged our way down the mooring line.
As I descended, the dogfish darted in and out of the gloom, and, touching down on the sandy bottom at 35 feet, I was immediately swarmed by curious
little sharks. They were three-feet feet long, with pointy noses and big sappy eyes. Pulling my camera against the current, I worked my way over to
the doggy bag and grabbed a salmon. I waggled it around, trying to mimic a wounded fish and catch the attention of the closest sharks. They idled over
and nosed me a little until the first one figured out what was food and what was neoprene. Then the dogfish latched on and went berserk. As soon as its
jaws closed around the fish it began to thrash just like its bigger cousins. It occurred to me that I'd played this game before: if you've ever wrestled
for a stick with a big dog you know the feeling. The little shark was soon joined by two of its friends, and as I held on with my left hand, I snapped
away on the shutter with my right.
As more and more dogfish drifted into the scene, I let go of the salmon bag and floated along behind the ball of sharks, watching them rip it apart. Eventually
I grabbed a kelp frond and started the task of dragging myself back toward the other divers, lost up current somewhere in the gloom. As I pulled myself along,
I tried to count the sharks drifting effortlessly by me: fifty, one hundred, two hundred? The parade was endless.
As the group came into view, there was Jill
kneeling on the sand, holding on to three salmon being wrestled away by half a dozen dogfish. Mark, her husband, was throwing bait up into the water to watch
the sharks dive-bomb from all directions, and as I looked around taking in the whole sharky scene, I thought to myself that it doesn't get much more fun
than this. I grabbed another fish and was momentarily swept away into a big ball of sharks. I continued to claw my way back toward the group until my air
gauge read empty. Finally I rose from the still circling sharks until they were no more than shadows, fading as I drifted away.
One by one Mike picked us up as we floated in the frigid water. We sat grinning at each other as excited words tumbled out. And by the time we had reached the
lodge, we had already booked this same weekend for next year.
Editor's Note: This article was first published in Shark Diver magazine.