Intrepid divers have been swarmed by a massive herd of playful sea lions off the coast of Canada.
Dutch photographer Joost van Uffelen, 34, and his girlfriend Sandy van de Water swam with the group of Steller sea lions off the coast of Hornby Island in Canada’s Salish Sea.
The couple said the bold and Freediving Mask curious creatures, the largest type of sea lions, ‘used them as chew toys’ but they were not afraid during the experience.
Joost van Uffelen and his girlfriend (pictured) are swarmed by a crowd of playful sea lions while freediving off the coast of Canada
Sandy van de Water plays with the raft of sea lions in a camouflage wetsuit.
Her boyfriend Joost van Uffelen has previously won a National Geographic photography prize for his underwater shots
The Dutch photographer caught the stunning images by Hornby Island in Canada’s Salish Sea with the Steller sea lions, the largest species of the mammal
Mr van Uffelen, who has won a National Geographic Frans Lanting prize for a picture of dancing sea lions, said: ‘Sea lions are probably the most interactive animals to spend time in the water with, but nothing could really prepare us for the Steller sea lions in this location.
‘Freediving with these sea lions was one of the best experiences we have had while freediving so far.
‘Stellers are bold, curious and Freediving Mask the most playful sea lions we ever dived with.
The couple said the sea lions ‘used them as chew toys’ and were attracted to their wetsuits.
The Dutch photographer said they have freedived with other species of sea lions previously but they have never been as playful before
The couple travel around the world freediving to find the perfect underwater shots of creatures from the deep
Mr van Uffelen said: ‘Freediving with these sea lions was one of the best experiences we have had while Freediving Mask so far’
Sea lions have been known to attack people but these playful creatures only wanted to play in the water with the two divers
‘We have freedived with Californian, South American and Galapagos sea lions before, but nothing really compares.
‘We don’t really know why they were so interactive.
‘It could be their size, or their tendency to ‘gang up’ and investigate in big groups, or just their curious nature.
‘They were using us as chew-toys, which, because of their size and teeth, could be quite intimidating, but it was only playful behaviour.
‘In the process we learned that some freedive suits can withstand Freediving Mask sea lion teeth better than others.
‘Combining the close interaction with a big group of big animals and doing this while holding our breath made this a very exciting experience.’
The couple say they don’t know why the sea lions were much more interactive than they had ever experienced before
Dutch photographer Joost van Uffelen, 34, and his girlfriend have freedived with Californian, South American and Galapagos sea lions before
A colony of Steller sea lions congregate by Hornby Island in British Columbia.
The mammals were unusually interactive with the freedivers
They said: ‘In the process we learned that some freedive suits can withstand sea lion teeth better than others’, with Sandy’s camouflage wetsuit particularly attractive to the sea lions
Joost and Sandy are both photographers and have previously captured dolphins and sting rays in their stunning underwater photography