A dip beneath the Atlantic reveals a spectacularly beautiful world ruled by the Cape fur seal
“Aren’t there sharks? Don’t seals bite? Isn’t the open ocean a dangerous place?”
Even the most strapping and stoic of individuals would likely blanch at the idea of slapping on a wetsuit and a pair of goggles and go swimming with seals. But the bottom line is this: if sharks or man-eating seals were even remotely a problem, the company behind the adventure, Animal Ocean, wouldn’t be making such a roaring trade. And, boy, do they have a roaring trade!
Almost every day, weather permitting, multiple groups of adventurer’s head out to Duiker Island to swim with seals.
Suit up, sail out
You don’t need anything other than an adventurous spirit to go snorkelling with seals. The vivacious team at Animal Ocean takes care of you the minute you arrive at the Snorkel Centre, which is located on Albert Road in Hout Bay. Here, you are given a safety briefing, suited up in a head-to-toe wetsuit, and bundled into a van to be transported to the harbour. It’s a short and epically scenic boat trip to the seal colony at Duiker Island, which lies at the foot of Hout Bay’s imposing Sentinel Mountain.
I do admit that I approached the day with a little – okay, a lot – of trepidation but the minute I was in the water with the seals, my soul soared with the thrill, excitement, and pleasure of it all. Cape fur seals might be ungainly on land but underwater they transform into sublime performers with the grace and elegance of ballet dancers. This time of year, the seal colony at Duiker Island is packed with new arrivals, and on the day we went out, we shared the water with scores of seal pups, some barely more than a few weeks old. There was also a vagrant elephant seal in the mix, but at ±3,500 kg in weight, we gave him a wide berth.
For our group of about ten people, we had four guides who were nearby at all times, and we spent the better part of an hour swimming with seals, filming their antics with a hand-held Go Pro camera, which Animal Ocean rents out to its adventurers. They played, glided, and swam circles around us and I never once felt threatened or even cold, so effective were the 5 mm neoprene wetsuits we were wearing.
Back at the Snorkel Centre, we had a quick hot shower, changed back into our daywear, and helped ourselves to a little coffee to help warm the insides.
A lifetime experience to remember
Beneath the undulating emerald surface of the Atlantic Ocean lies an enchanting wonderland of otherworldly life. Kelp forests sway in the powerful ebb and flow of the current, fish dart in, out, and between the great stalks of kelp, and the submerged rocky outcrops are covered in limpets and a thick tangle of sea algae. This world does not belong to us – indeed, not even gravity reigns here – and perhaps it is this that makes the ocean such a thrill to explore. Add to this the pleasure of sharing these waters with Cape fur seals, and you’ve got a lifetime experience you will never forget.
Book your seal snorkelling adventure with Animal Ocean by calling owner Steven Benjamin on 072 296 9132 between 08:00 and 16:00. For more information, consult their website at www.sealsnorkeling.com