The ‘dogs of the ocean’ are loved all around the world, and there are fast becoming more places that you can enjoy their company. Fortunately, the typography of many seal or sea lion colonies do not allow easy access to swim with these majestic creatures, keeping them safe from the mainland and any dog or human disruption, and making the few colonies we can swim with them at that much more special.
Almost all the continents have at least one country where you can take a plunge into the ocean and have a wildlife experience like never before.
Peru is located on the West Coast of South America and is just one of the places that offer a seal swimming experience. Here you will find the South American fur seal or ‘Leon Marino’ as the locals call them. The tours leave from the mainland in Lima aboard a yacht, making the 4.5-hour journey to and from the island that much more enjoyable. This trip will cost you around $60 and includes lights snacks and wetsuits which are on a first come first serve basis. After your swim there is a hand shower on board to rinse the salt water off, but you may not use any soap or shampoo as the runoff goes straight into the ocean.
A male South American fur seal rests in the shallows
In a national wildlife sanctuary 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast are the volcanic Galapagos islands. A short way down the road from the airport is a beach that is home to the Galapagos fur seals. Visitors are encouraged to take a short trip into town to purchase a mask, snorkel and some fins to go and experience the seals on their own.
Fur seals are inquisitive creatures and will often swim right up close to say hello!
The next place you can enjoy seal snorkeling is in Cozumel, Mexico – at the Isla Espiritu Santo at the very southern point of North America. Mexico offers seal swimming both in the wild and captivity. Although there is not one dedicated company to enjoy the seals in their natural habitat, many cruises will stop for their guests to jump in and have a quick swim. Alternatively, the water park Dolphin Discovery hosts a small amount of seals that you can jump in with for 45 minutes. We are sure it is self-explanatory as to why we do not want to encourage swimming with wild animals in captivity!
The sea lions in Mexico look similar to the Cape fur seals of South Africa
The boat ride adventure always adds fun to the experience!
Oceania hosts two countries that offer snorkeling with the seals, Australia and Tasmania. The seals found in these parts are the Australian fur seal and the Long-Nosed fur seal. Australia has many companies offering this experience and the average price is $215 for an adult and $151 for a child for a half day excursion including all of your equipment. A trip of the same duration in Tasmania is a little less pricey and will cost $195 for an adult. However, most of the seals found in Tasmania are on the mainland, so the trips with Wild Ocean Tasmania travel up and down the coast looking for the best place for you to hop into the water. Included in your trip is all the equipment you may need, under water photos of your experience, and vegan cruelty-free snacks.
Hopping into the water to meet the Australian fur seal, a brown fur seal very similar to our Cape fur seals
Impressive cliffs along the journey to meet the seals in Tasmania
If you head over to England you will find a company that braves the cold waters to take clients swimming with the seals. The trips cost 60 pounds and includes all your gear (including dry suits on request to help ward off the cold!) so you can enjoy the seals for as long as possible. You will be taken to Lundy Island just off North Devon on England’s south west coast which is home to grey seals, also known as true or earless seals. Because water is so precious on the island, they do not offer showers and rather encourage mainland tourists to rinse off when they arrive back at their destination.
Enjoying the boat ride to Lundy Island
South Africa is host to many different Cape fur seal colonies along both the west and east coast. The warm waters off Plettenberg Bay entice many people to jump in and swim with the seals, which can be done for R850. However, while the warm waters are very inviting to some, Plettenberg’s reputation for being a Great White hotspot may serve as a deterrent to others.
Saying hello to the seals at Robberg, Plettenberg Bay
The most popular location for seal snorkelling in South Africa is at Duiker Island just off the coast of Hout Bay, Cape Town.
Duiker Island, the home of the local Cape fur seals in Hout Bay, Cape Town. Image: Steve Benjamin
Animal Ocean was founded by Steve Benjamin in 2009, and is the pioneer of snorkeling with seals in South Africa. Our company has grown from a small garden shed into the incredible Seal Snorkeling Centre that is located a short way from the Hout Bay Harbour. Animal Ocean offers Seal Snorkeling with intimate groups of up to 11 people on the boat, guided by our Skipper and 2 Seal Snorkeling guides on board. The beautiful facilities and equipment are all included, including Wi-Fi, tea and coffee, showers, changerooms, safety briefings, qualified and passionate guides and a small shop to buy a souvenir or two to take home in memory of your trip.
Seal Snorkeling smiles after being immersed in the underwater world of the Cape fur seals. Time for some hot chocolate and cookies! Image: Steve Benjamin
Seal Snorkeling wetsuits and gear ready and waiting for clients to get dressed at the Animal Ocean Seal Snorkeling Centre. Image: Martine Viljoen
The trip begins when the clients arrive at the office to sign in and have some tea and coffee before jumping into their wetsuits. After a short safety briefing everyone is transported from the offices down to the harbour in the famous ‘Seal Mobile’ where an 8-meter rubber duck awaits. The thrilling boat ride is a mere 10 minutes, but with the breath-taking views of the surrounding cliffs dropping off into the ocean you will wish you had a little longer to take it all in. The seal colony at Duiker island boasts between 5-8 thousand Cape fur seals and in March and April is home to hundreds of new seal pups all learning to swim for the first time. The cold water is hardly noticeable due to the 3mm neoprene vests, 5mm wetsuits with hoods, and the gloves and booties provided. After 50 minutes you are welcomed back to the boat to enjoy some hot chocolate and biscuits and have some warm water poured down your wetsuit to help ward off any cold that may have snuck in. The boat ride back is again too short for many but is made welcome by the warm showers and hot drinks waiting back at the offices. From start to finish the whole trip will take you 2.5 hours, but will leave you with memories that will last you a lifetime.
Into the Seal Mobile with the Animal Ocean Guides for the 5 minute drive to the Hout Bay Harbour. Image: Reinhardt Kaufman
Watch the seals at Duiker Island twirl and play amongst the kelp forests. Rent a camera from Animal Ocean to capture the memories! Image: Steve Benjamin
With only eight countries in the world that offer this unique experience to enjoy the most intimate, unobtrusive wildlife experience on the planet you would be wise to plan your travels accordingly and to encounter these extraordinary creatures and the joy they bring to all those that visit them.
If you are planning on visiting South Africa make sure to include a stop in Cape Town and come and visit us at Animal Ocean to meet the local Cape fur seals! 😊
Sharing the joy of snorkeling with the Cape fur seals and the Animal Ocean team! Image: Steve Benjamin
Written by Lara Caine. Images supplied unless otherwise stated.