Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

097: Underwater Nuptials

It was a slow weekend in the dive park this Fourth of July, and I was enjoying the uncrowded conditions underwater. As my readers know, I try to record on video the two most important functions of any species: courtship-mating-reproduction and feeding. Saturday I prepared for my fourth dive of the day, anxious to record more garibaldi mating behavior.

As I entered the water with my camera, a fellow diver asked if I was shooting stills or video. When I responded, he asked "would you be willing to videotape our wedding underwater tomorrow?" I said I'd think about it while diving and let him know. My dive was fantastic... I watched dozens of kelp bass attack a school of about 100 jack mackerel "trapped" between the feather boa kelp on the rocks and the inside of the kelp forest. The bass would hide within the feather boas and dart out snapping at the poor mackerel who would scatter and then reform their school for protection. The carnage (and hopefully my footage) was awesome. As I approached the stairs to exit, a five foot leopard shark swam right by me (the first I've videotaped in the park).

That great dive, and my empty wallet, had to be signs to accept the request. When I surfaced, I saw the groom (Carlos) and his bride-to-be (Amber) waiting topside. I told them I'd be happy to videotape their wedding and would meet them in the park in the morning. In all my years of diving, I've never witnessed an underwater wedding (much less videotaped one). Here was a chance to record the courtship and pairing behavior of my own species underwater. However, I understood any actual mating behavior during the honeymoon would be off-limits!

The next morning Carlos, Amber and their wedding party gathered at the park. I discovered Amber's father (Mike) was an old abalone diver who frequented Avalon in the 60's and 70's, around the time I arrived. There was talk of a "rehearsal" dive in the late morning, but that had to be cancelled. I shot footage of the wedding party topside as they welcomed one another and geared up. It was obvious this would be a fun group.

Finally the time came to enter the kelp forest. I tread water near the stairs and filmed the divers as they entered and swam over to the drop down buoy where we were assembling. Then I submerged to about 25 feet and waited for the divers to join me in a clearing in the kelp. I've often referred to the kelp forest, with streams of sunlight penetrating it, as one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. What an appropriate place for Carlos and Amber to begin their married life together.

The divers gathered around a rock in the clearing. Amber, calm and collected, waited at the edge until her father took her hand and led her down the "aisle" to the submarine altar. Carlos, and the family and friends who were diving, greeted her arrival as did the snorkelers observing from the surface. Let the celebration begin. The minister had a goodie bag with three white dive slates in it. On two of them were the oaths written by Carlos and Amber for their partner to read during the ceremony. Once read, the couple exchanged rings underwater and the minister pulled the third slate out and wrote that they were now man and wife.

That triggered the release of a huge curtain of bubbles from the divers which, fortunately, did not totally obscure Carlos and Amber's kiss. Of course all during the ceremony I had to deal with the constant stream of bubbles from the divers' regulators. I hadn't realized how difficult it would be to get good camera angles because of this. However all turned out for the best. The divers greeted one another with big hugs and high fives. Carlos and Amber swam off hand-in-hand, then embraced for another kiss (even the garibaldi noticed my bright red face as I filmed this).

After a second dive, I drove back home to edit the wedding footage. Then I raced down to the dive park at 8:45 PM to gear up for the fireworks display. For several years I've wanted to watch and film them from underwater. This was the year. I submerged as they started up, but the surface chop from the hundreds of boats in the area made it less spectacular than I'd hoped. I surfaced to watch the rest of the show. After a warm shower, I ran into Carlos, Amber and the wedding party downtown and was invited to join them for a night of celebration. This group was definitely a lot of fun to be with!

My first underwater wedding has convinced me there is hope I, too, may eventually meet my ultimate mermaid (er, dive buddy). We may choose clearer (and warmer) tropical waters, but the kelp forest was a beautiful setting for this one. In the morning I dropped off a draft version of the wedding on DVD and gave the couple my "best fishes" on the start of their journey together. May there be many happy dives in their future!

© 2004 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays.

Amber and Carlos suiting up topside; reading their vows to one anotheron the dive slates;
Carlos putting Amber's ring on her finger; the newlyweds kiss "witnessed" by Gary Baldi.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material © 2004 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia