As the diver turned away, another sea lion darted in at the diver, moving to the side at the last moment, buzzing him like an aircraft flying past a control tower.
On Saturday night, Verlin Pherson, owner of Kodiak dive shop Scuba Do, shared his experiences diving around Kodiak Island with a small audience at the Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park ranger station.
The presentation was part of the state park’s summer naturalist series and offered Pherson a chance to talk about Kodiak’s underappreciated diving scene.
“A lot of people think there’s not much to see, but there’s actually a lot,” he said. “There’s all kinds of things to see, it’s just small.”
Unlike Florida or Mexico, where hordes of amateur divers flock each year, Kodiak’s offshore water is relatively unexplored.
While there are a handful of good dive spots around the island, new ones are being discovered whenever divers pick a spot on the map and go there.
Thomas Anthony, a diver and Kodiak park ranger, agrees. “There’s places here that a human being has never even seen, and how many people have seen things in warm water?” he asked.
Last year, scientists announced they had identified a previously unknown species of coral off Dutch Harbor. When Pherson heard the news, he looked back at his photographs and discovered he had shot that coral — 20 years ago.
In 2004, Pherson worked with biologist Brad Stevens to survey the Russian ship Kad’yak, which lies in about 80 feet of water off Spruce Island. The Kad’yak sank in 1860 and is the oldest known shipwreck in Alaska. “There’s not much left of it,” he said.
Despite the opportunities, Kodiak isn’t known as a big scuba diving destination — it’s too cold.
Pherson explained that while he does take tourists on dives, any diver needs to be certified to use a drysuit, and that takes specialized training.
This week, Pherson has been enjoying Kodiak’s 46-degree water with a German divemaster already certified in drysuits, but getting ordinary tourists in the water requires a little extra.
If they contact him ahead of time, he can get them started on book classes, then do practical training in about 6 hours in the water.
Once divers are trained, cold isn’t an issue. “We’ll go out there when it’s 5 degrees and blowing snow, and people look at you like you’re crazy,”
Crazy or not, Pherson has been diving in Kodiak since 1978, and he doesn’t expect to stop any time soon.
He recently completed an eight-day course in rebreather diving, which allows divers to stay under water for much longer periods of time, and the newer equipment is much quieter
That will allow him to get even closer to Kodiak’s marine mysteries.
“We dive year round, and it’s changing all the time,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to see.”