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A five-foot sturgeon is very interested in the top of Russell Stone’s head. The fish extends its syphon-like mouth, normally used for extracting benthos from the ocean floor, and briefly attaches it to Russell’s noggin.
“It felt a little like someone was putting a vacuum cleaner nozzle on me,” laughs Russell. “It’s a bit scary at first but you get used to it. They won’t hurt you or anything. They don’t even have teeth.”
Indeed, the sturgeon, not enjoying the taste of Russell’s wet suit, quickly detaches and circles back around. On its second pass, it slurps up a hunk of fish Russell offers it by hand.
Feeding marine animals is just one component of the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Guest Dive Program.
“This program’s available to any person ages 10 and above as long as they hold an open water dive certification,” explained Jenna Walker, the Aquarium’s dive safety officer. “It’s a five hour experience with 30-minute dives in two of our exhibits. During that time, you get to explore our Halibut Flats exhibit which contains a shipwreck structure and species like rockfish, skates and sturgeon. Then you can move over to the Aquarium’s Open Sea exhibit and swim with four different species of sharks.”
As an Oceanscape Network Youth Correspondent and a certified SCUBA diver, Russell experienced the program with his father. They contributed to the attached video by providing the underwater footage.
Russell says he obtained his SCUBA certification specifically so he could dive with his father and together they’ve explored underwater locations throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Aquarium dive was a first for both of them.
“It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Russell said following the dive. “You would never think you’d be able to interact with all these wild animals, but they’re very used to people so they just come up to investigate you. I don’t think that would happen in the wild. In the wild they’d probably swim away pretty quickly.”
Aside from the curiosity of the animals, there were other differences between diving in an aquarium and diving in the wild.
“In the places we’ve dived in Oregon and Washington, they water’s very murky. It’s like this giant green wall and you have to swim over and investigate what’s there. I love that sense of mystery,” Russell explained. “Diving in the Aquarium was more like swimming in a giant fish bowl, but you can see everything because the water’s so clear and of course you can see the animals perfectly, as well. I loved swimming with and feeding the sturgeon. They were so friendly.”
Now that Russell has an aquarium dive under his belt, what’s next?
“I’d love to dive Chuuk Lagoon in the South Pacific,” he smiles. “It has a massive assortment of sunken Japanese battleships from World War II. It’s supposed to be one of the best and most challenging places to SCUBA dive on Earth.”
Click here for more information about the Oceanscape Network Youth Correspondent.