The History of Animal Ocean

Seal Snorkeling since 2009!

Animal Ocean was founded in Cape Town in 2009 by Steve Benjamin, after spending time in the warmer waters of Kwazulu-Natal working with a marine expeditions company. Having previously studied Zoology and Ichthyology (fish science) Steve’s natural interest and curiosity about the natural world paired with this exposure to the tourism and wildlife film industry led to an idea…How best could he share his passions with others?

Steve has a constant smile plastered on his face, and his exuberant joy is infectious as he talks about everything that inspires him and the business he started from scratch. Let’s dive in!

Seals swim together above a reef

Cape fur seals playing above the kelpy reef around Duiker Island, Hout Bay

Why Seals?

Firstly, why seals? “They are just the happiest ocean creatures around! I love that they don’t mind sharing the ocean with anyone who wants to play with them. They are active and out and about doing things’’ says Steve.

Starting and growing a business is a full-time job, and the success of Animal Ocean today is an 11-year history of energy, time and love for sharing the ocean (as well as a lot of weekend work and sacrificing family events!) Saying that, it seems that Steve has loved every minute of it!

Snorkelers listen to a pre-trip safety briefing

Steve, the one-man Animal Ocean Seal Snorkeling Show!

Seal Snorkeling takes off!

As the concept of Seal Snorkeling started to materialise in Steve’s head, a SCUBA store was closing its doors and selling off all of their equipment, as well as their boat “Bianca” (which was soon after aptly renamed “Animal Ocean”). Now with wetsuits, fins, masks & snorkels and a boat, Steve was ready to take guests to sea!  All of the equipment was housed at the bottom of his parents’ garden, with the boat parked on their lawn. At first it was a one-man and many seals show, with Steve doing the admin of booking guests, and then packing all the gear and towing the boat down to the Hout Bay Harbour to set up in the parking lot. Meeting guests, getting them into wetsuits and onto the boat followed, with Steve skippering and also getting into the water alongside his clients! For the first few years Steve also offered scuba dives at Duiker Island, but soon realised the potential of the Seal Snorkeling offering – with no one else leading tours like this he decided to focus all his energy on growing the Seal Snorkeling business.

His aunt Louise stepped in to helped briefly, followed by Hannah, who answered the phone and took bookings. In 2015 Kate Horne joined the team, doing the bookings and managing the growing Seal Snorkeling operation. Soon they could accept credit card payments, and a small pop up change room was added to the meeting and kit up area in the harbour parking lot.

Seal Snorkeling prep area set up in the harbour

The meeting area for Seal Snorkeling trips at the Hout Bay Harbour parking lot

Guides & a New Boat

With Steve skippering Animal Ocean, Seal Snorkeling Guides joined the business to help with in-water safety as well as making sure the guests were comfortable and well informed. The guides welcomed the guests when they arrived in the harbour, helped them each with getting the necessary snorkeling equipment and talked them through a Seal Snorkeling briefing.

Animal Ocean could cater for up to 11 clients, but with the demand for the Seal Snorkeling activity growing, Steve decided to purchase another boat. We welcomed the vessel ‘Seal Snorkeling’ a few years ago, which became the primary boat used for guests. Steve also stepped away from Skippering the client trips, with the team welcoming a full time Seal Snorkeling Skipper to run the trips with the Guides.

Snorkelers on a boat putting on fins

Seal Snorkeling Skipper and Guides with guests at Duiker Island, Hout Bay

Animal Ocean Snorkel Centre

With business increasing each summer season, Steve and Kate started looking at ways to improve the overall experience. In 2016 a house was bought a few hundred meters from the harbour, and extensively renovated to function as a Snorkel Centre! All the equipment, boats and vehicles were moved from Steve’s parents’ house (‘Thanks Mom and Dad!’) and the property set up to accommodate guests.

Animal Ocean staff standing in their Snorkel Centre lounge area

Starting the Summer 2017/2018 season from the new Snorkel Centre!

In September 2017 Animal Ocean opened its Snorkel Centre doors to welcome guests, with visitors now able to meet here to sign in, enjoy refreshments and browse the small shop whilst guides prepared their equipment. Having a comfortable lounge and garden, as well as bathrooms and freely accessible WiFi was a big step up from the original groundmat in the harbour! 2 outdoor showers were installed for guests to rinse off post snorkel, and were expanded to accommodate 6 shower cubicles in 2019. The upgrade also meant that we needed to be able to transport our guests the 500m distance to the harbour, so the Seal Mobile was introduced! Kate left in March 2018, with Lauren van Noort taking over as full-time Manager, overseeing the operation of Animal Ocean and sharing the seals with the help of our staff.

Wetsuits laid out on benches in front of an underwater mural

Snorkeling gear ready and waiting for guests. Image: Martine Viljoen

A dog sits in a VW microbus that has Seal Snorkeling branding

Marlin hitching a ride in the Seal Mobile!

11 people sit together in Animal Ocean towel ponchos in the garden

Guests relax together in the garden after sharing the Seal Snorkling experience!

The team now consists of 6 full time staff members, with a number of freelance staff who step in to assist when we take out both boats. When asked what makes him most proud, Steve says, “I’m always proud of how our guests absolutely love us and their expectations are always surpassed. The team, the house and the seals always blow people away. If you read our TripAdvisor reviews you will see what I mean. We’ve taken an idea and created a unique and amazing experience that people love. That’s special!”

People in wetsuits sit on a boat smiling after Seal Snorkeling

Animal Ocean staff with smiling guests after snorkeling with the Cape fur seals

Over the last eleven years Animal Ocean has grown steadily whilst still manging to stay a small and unique client orientated business. The team strives to make sure that we give our guests personal attention, and to create the greatest possible overall experience for them. Our reviews attest to this!

“I’ve known Animal Ocean since Steve was by himself. They’ve grown up to a fully professional outfit but are still small, friendly, caring, personal and lovely. I can’t recommend them highly enough!”

“The premises is really great; with a beautiful, stylish lounge area, tea & coffee making facility, and really friendly and welcoming staff that ooze passion for what they do. The dive equipment was also great quality, and the wet suits and vests kept us perfectly warm.”

A snorkeler films a group of seals underwater with a small handheld camera

Hello seals!

See you soon!

We are looking forward to welcoming you on our Seal Snorkeling trips soon, and sharing the wonders of this experience!

Follow us online at @sealsnorkeling (Instagram) / Animal Ocean (Facebook)

Find Steve on Instagram @animal_ocean and have a look at his work at www.stevenbenjamin.co.za