If you've ever been anywhere near a seal colony, then you know that they aren't exactly the sweetest smelling creatures. We're lucky enough to have one about a mile away, and always check to see how many there are lounging on the rocks when we walk past on the coast path. However, this isn't the type of sniffing I am referring to.
I was out surfing recently and had just paddled out past the breaking waves and decided to sit up on my board for a short rest. I sat facing out to sea, getting my breath back and looking for my next wave. Suddenly a grey seal pup popped up just a few feet away from me! He was about 3 feet long, and evidently healthy and well fed. It is not unusual to see seals while out surfing, but they normally keep a safe distance away. Not this one. He was a very curious little chap. He made eye contact, and just floated a few feet off the front of my board, having a good sniff of the air. I just sat there looking at him and smiling.
After a minute or so of this he came nearer, and actually started touching and sniffing the nose of my surfboard with his. Maybe he was trying to figure out what it was, or what I was for that matter? He must have decided I needed further investigation, as he then dived underneath me, and floated very still just underneath my board. The water was very clear, and I could see exactly where he was. I did wonder if he might give my toes a nip to check them out, but he didn't, and surfaced at the tail end of my board and again had a good sniff. This was starting to get a bit comical, and I started to grin.
Just as quickly as he'd appeared the first time, he dived and went out of view. I didn't see him for a few seconds and then he popped up again, just off the front of my board. I figured we'd come to some kind of understanding by this time, so I made a slight fist and reached out my hand to him, just to see what he would do (I was still wondering if he'd bite, and thought he'd be less likely to bite my fist!). He wasn't phased in the slightest by this, and actually came right up to me and sniffed my hand, making contact with his nose! I thought I'd try my luck at this point, and went to touch the top of his head, but he ducked out of the way. Not far, just enough to avoid contact. He then went back to sniffing my fist! By now I was struggling to suppress laughter.
Maybe I got lucky with this encounter, or maybe he was picking up on something that told him I was safe to approach? There were other surfers out that day, but I didn't see him approach anyone else. Whatever was going through his mind he 'hung out' with me for about 5 minutes in total, until my next wave came along. I saw him briefly a few times after that, but from a distance. I would like to think he went back to his mates and family later and said something like, "Hey, some of those humans are okay you know. They do smell a bit funny, but the one I met today was friendly".