Posted by: cherylyoung | January 25, 2013



Hornby Island DivingWith stellar sea lions above and wolf eels, octopus, and six-gill sharks lurking below, the emerald

seas that encircle Hornby Island guarantee some

memorable undersea thrills.By Jett Britnell


  One of my fondest undersea experiences occurred back  in 1982 while I was diving at Hornby Island, B.C.

It was my first visit to the island and I had ventured there

to dive with the island’s famed six-gill sharks.

In fact, this was my first attempt at shark diving.

I can remember being extremely excited as I had studied

and admired sharks since I was a very young boy

While I was on my drysuit, I recall thinking how far it

seemed I had travelled from the time I stood alone in

front of my fifth grade class at Regina Public School in

Ottawa to deliver my interest talk on sharks.

Yes, back then I knew my sharks all right.

I was a virtual fountain of knowledge about tiger sharks,

blue sharks, bull sharks, lemon sharks, hammerhead

sharks and, of course, what kind of shark expert would

I have been if I could not sermonize about the infamous

great white shark.

And this was all several years before the movie, Jaws,

created its own kind of shark frenzy by capitalizing on

the general public’s inherent fear of sharks.

During my first descent at Flora Islet it dawned on me just

before I reached the bottom that I knew very little about

six-gill sharks.

The underwater visibility was spectacular at about 30

meters, or more.

At approximately five minutes into the dive, one of my

adolescent dreams materialized into reality.

That was the moment I gazed into the bright emerald-

green eyes of my first six-gill shark.

What an animal, I thought, it has to be a 10-footer!

Cruising slowly along the top of Flora Islets steep

drop off, the shark appeared to show no real interest in us.

On the other hand, my dive buddy and I were absolutely

enthralled with the creature.

Keeping a close and yet respectful distance, we were able

to keep pace and swim beside the shark for quite some time.

In total, we saw more than twelve different sharks that

day. Remarkably, the same scenario repeated itself during

our second dive the following day.

Little did we know that it was a very rare occurrence to

see so many six-gill sharks during one dive.

Normally you count yourself lucky if you see only one, let

alone two or three sharks.

As near as we could figure, there must have been an

El Niño or some other unusual phenomena happening

since the six-gill shark experience we enjoyed was truly

an uncommon one.

Hornby Island’s Flora Islet is unique in that it is one of the

few places in the world where sport divers can see the

seemingly docile six-gill sharks.

A sluggish species, six-gill sharks can attain lengths of

over six meters (20 feet), though specimens in the range

of two to four meters (6-12 feet) are more common.

These are deepwater sharks that have been fished off

Portugal at depths of over a mile.

Curiously, they tend to be caught in deeper water toward

tropical latitudes and in shallower water toward colder


While their appearance within sport diving depths at a

few specific locations in British Columbia during the

summer months remains a mystery, marine biologists

speculate that these sharks ascend from their deepwater

environ and move into shallower water to either mate

or take advantage of more abundant food sources.

During our most recent trip to Hornby Island we made

two dives at Flora Islet with the express hope of seeing a

six-gill shark.

Alas, the six-gill sharks eluded us.

We were out diving for a few days with Hornby Island

Diving, one of British Columbia’s oldest scuba diving


Bob Zielinski, who is regarded as being one of British

Columbia’s diving pioneers, began running scuba diving

charters here well over a quarter century ago.

These days Bob’s son, Rob, runs the business.

Since taking the helm from his father, Rob has been

instrumental in planning and executing changes designed

to ensure that Hornby Island Diving remains in operation

for another twenty-five years. With the exception of the

top floor observation room which has been wholly

maintained, the old dive lodge has been completely

renovated and overhauled.

The lodge now features two floors of comfortable living

space with numerous semiprivate bedrooms that can

accommodate up to twenty-four divers with two to four

guests to a room.

Other amenities include two large bathrooms complete

with shower stalls, a large modern kitchen and dining area,

a battery charging nook, outside rinse tanks for dive gear,

and a traditional cedar sauna.

Assisting Rob with the day to day business of running a

successful dive operation is his fiancée, Amanda Heath.

Together they make a fine duo and clearly demonstrate a s

incere regard to satisfying the needs and enjoyment of

their guests.

Also long gone are the days when Hornby Island Diving

would load a group of divers into a converted aluminum

herring skiff.

Although such an austere dive platform served divers well

in the past, it was clearly not up to snuff by modern dive

resort standards.

Today, all the diving is conducted from a beamy, custom

built, 32-foot aluminum dive boat that is equipped with

twin 200 horse-power outboard engines.

The comfortable vessel has an aluminum canopy over the

dive deck and a small cabin area that can keep surface

cameras and other gear dry.

A lot more than just the diving facilities has changed on

Hornby Island in the ten years since we last went diving


While the island residents remain mindfully protective

about preserving their idyllic rural atmosphere, the recent

emergence of coffee bars, arts and craft shops, pottery

studios, and quaint bed & breakfast establishments in no

way detracts from Hornby Island’s pleasantly pastoral feel.

A popular topside highlight for many Hornby Island

visitors is the magnificent beaches at Tribune Bay and

Whaling Station Bay.

While Hornby Island is perhaps best known for the

summer sightings of six gill sharks, there are many other

diving attractions nearby.

Situated at the south end of Lambert Channel, both Heron

Rocks and Norris Rocks boast a variety of diving sites that

offer a wide assortment of marine invertebrates and

crevice reef dwellers.

During our most recent visit here we descended over a

steep drop at Toby Islet and came across a giant Pacific

octopus that was languishing out in the open upon a silt

covered sandstone ledge.

Following this trigger-happy photo interlude, we ascended i

nto the sunlit shallows where we discovered a small school

of needlefish.

Unfortunately, by this point in the dive I was completely

out of film.

So we made this shallow portion of our dive into a long

safety stop and scoured the submerged boulders that

were blanketed with orange cup corals, staghorn

bryozoans and floral-like colonies of zoanthids.

Sponge encrusted swimming scallops occasional

ly chattered through the water column like toy false teeth

whenever they lifted up from the bottom.

Kelp greenlings, juvenile lingcod and wolf eels are also

common reef inhabitants.

During the winter months stellar sea lions haul out at

Norris Rocks and provide a thrilling distraction from the

more than 28 dive sites that are frequented by Hornby

Island Diving.

I recently saw some fascinating video footage taken of

divers and sea lions cavorting underwater together.

The curiosity and apparent gentle playfulness of the sea

lions was obvious and certainly motivates me to make a

return trip here when the sea lions are around.

If you’re looking for a refreshing getaway that may

include stellar sea lions above and wolf eels, octopus, and

six-gill sharks below, the emerald seas of Hornby Island

guarantee memorable undersea thrills.

For more information, contact Hornby Island Diving,

Ford Cove, Hornby Island, British Columbia, V0R 1Z0,

phone/fax: (250) 335-2807, e-mail: website:

From Nanaimo, drive north on the Island Highway and

follow the road signs to the Denman Island Ferry at

Buckley Bay.

A 15-minute ferry ride takes you to Denman Island where,

after a 15- minute drive, you can take the connecting

10-minute ferry crossing to Hornby Island.

From the Hornby Island ferry landing, follow the main

road to Ford Cove and Hornby Island Diving.

Note: allow extra time for long ferry line-ups during peak






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