When I was about 8 or 9 years old my sister and I entered a summer story writing contest at the local library. The topic was “My Dream Summer Vacation.”
My sister wrote about spending the summer flying around on a magical Pegasus.
I wrote about spending my summer as a sea lion at the Saint Louis Zoo (a totally normal idea, right?).
My sister won.
I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to live the life of a sea lion at the Zoo. What’s not to like? They spend all day sunbathing and swimming around. Exactly what I like to do on my vacation! And on hot summer days, oh man, that water has always looked wonderful.
Well, this year “My Dream Summer Vacation” kind of became my life. I was scuba certified in order to swim around in (and clean) the wonderful waters of the sea lion exhibit at the Zoo!
Remember in May when I was just SO excited about diving?
(Scuba Diving Day 1. Oh, how little I knew what was coming.)
Well, November scuba diving is a whole ‘nother beast, ladies and gentleman. A different story.
That wonderful water is now a cool 58 degrees. Fifty-eight, you say? Like a crisp Fall day, right? No, that is not right. Not right at all. Fifty-eight degree water is not the same as fifty-eight degree air.
Mental_Floss explains it like this: The amount of heat that moves between your body and the surrounding medium and the speed at which it moves, both of which are important to the sensation or warmth or cold that we feel, depends on how good a conductor the medium is. The reason the water feels colder than air is because water is the better conductor of the two. When you hop into that 60-degree pool, heat escapes your body much more easily than it would if you were standing beside the pool in 60-degree air. Because the water takes more heat from your body, and quicker, it feels colder.
I can sum it up a little faster. It feels like this.
And it’s only going to get worse. Six months in, here are a few reflections on what it’s really like to live like a sea lion at the Saint Louis Zoo.
1. It’s real cold. Ok, maybe not for the actual sea lions, but definitely for me. I supposedly descended from some hearty, European stock that should be equipped to withstand such temperatures. But man oh man, when that water starts seeping through that wetsuit…yikes. When it hits my face…double yikes. Usually, it’s really just the first two minutes that it gets really bad. Then eventually the skin, wetsuit, hood, socks, gloves etc start to do their job and I warm up. Except my lips. My lips always feel like this guy’s.
2. I always have to pee. I think it’s the pressure. Sea Lion Sound is not super deep, but even 12 feet of pressure on one little bladder is, for me, too much! I’m typically good for about 25 minutes. There I am la la la la la, swimming, swimming, swimming…when BAM! I have to pee. And I have to hold it for another good half an hour underwater. When I became certified my instructor told me that, “There are those who pee in their wetsuits and those who don’t admit to peeing in their wetsuits.” Well, sir, I refuse to pee in my wetsuit. So , when I scuba dive, I always have to pee.
3. Speaking of bodily functions, yes, there is a lot of poop. From the sea lions, of course! (I hope that would have been obvious). They live in that water, they poop in that water. Cleaning up the poop is, after all, the purpose of scuba diving at the Zoo. At first, it kind of grossed me out. I mean, that poop floats through the water. The water I am swimming in. My lips and face are exposed, remember? But I quickly got used to it and besides, I shower soon after. What does sea lion poop look like? I would classify it in the fecal matter category of “logs.” Sea lions eat plenty of fish and sometimes the poop is kind of sparkly-like, from the fish scales. If The Rainbow Fish gifted one shiny scale to a furry, brown log, that would be sea lion poop.
4. Ah, the shower. As a child, I was on the swim team. I’m not really sure why because I’m pretty bad at swimming and I hate cold water, but I was. I remember many cold, cold mornings spent swimming laps in the local Elks Club pool. After shivering our way through practice, my sisters and I would rush home and take the hottest showers imaginable and it was pure nirvana. I never thought I’d have that delectable feeling again. Well, I do now. After one hour of blue-lipped scuba diving in Sea Lion Sound I get to take a really hot shower and it is a truly fantastic moment. Kind of makes swimming in poop worth it in the end.
5. It really is cool. No, I’m not even trying to make a pun here. Yes, November (and I’m assuming, sadly, December/January/February/March/April) scuba diving is cold. But at one point in my dive today I looked up and Nuna the cutest, not so little (up close!) harbor seal in the whole world, was swimming in circles right above me. She did lots of loops and spirals, swimming right through my bubbles, only a few feet from my nose. And the amazing part? I was at work! I get to swim with a seal at work!
It’s my summer dream come true.
It’s really a very lucky deal to get to scuba dive as a part of my job.
Truly brings a whole new meaning to the idea of starting the work day gathered around the water cooler…