Sea lions don't bite — hard, according to Vancouver Island filmmaker Russell Clark.

The avid scuba diver and underwater cameraman recently went for a swim with dozens of sea lions off the coast of Hornby Island — and they didn't hold back on the nibbles.

"It's not painful at all," he told host Robyn Burns on CBC's All Points West. "They want to see if you're squishy I think."

Clark is part of a growing community of divers exploring the depths of B.C.'s South Coast. In fact, he says the abundance of marine wildlife along the coastline's ecosystems has helped the province become a go-to destination for underwater filmmakers.

Diving with sea lions

Clark and his team visited a sea lion hangout near Hornby Island and Vivian Island. He says they approached the group cautiously, entering the waters roughly 100 metres away from them.

But within minutes, the curious creatures surrounded the divers.

"They want to know what this big clumsy animal is in their ocean," said Clark. "Sometimes you'll see a swarm of 30 or maybe even 50 of them charging towards you."

Sea Lion

Up to 50 sea lions surrounded the divers during their shoot. (SEAPROOF dotTV/YouTube)

Clark says the large groups can feel intimidating at first, but the interactions are playful. During the shoot, the lions barreled up, down, and around the shooters, often bumping into them. They nibbled on their gear, playfully twirled around one another, and some even showed off a few tricks.

"Sometimes they'll pick up a pebble or a stone off of the sea bed and they'll sort of throw it in the air and swim by and catch it — and they do the same thing with sea cucumbers."

A unique experience

Clark says B.C.'s resident sea lions make for a unique diving experience that's putting the province on the map.

"You can swim with sea lions in other parts of the world, such as California or Mexico — but B.C. seems to be a very unique place for the types of interactions that we have."

Sea Lion 2

The lions are curious of the awkward and clumsy-looking scuba divers, says Clark. (SEAPROOF dotTV/YouTube)

"The sea lions here do seem more interactive with divers and snorkelers, and because of that, we've actually attracted a lot of divers from around the world that come here to [film and photograph] — or just swim and have fun with them."

He says the feeling he gets when he dives with the animals is difficult to put into words.

"[It's] a unique experience and privilege to see these magnificent animals in their own habitat," he said. "They're these gigantic fun creatures of the ocean."

"It makes you smile from ear to ear."

With files from CBC's All Points West


To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: 'They want to see if you're squishy': Swarm of sea lions nibble on divers in stunning video