Watch: I swam with seals in Cape Town - here's what it's like to play with the 'puppies of the ocean'
- We braved the freezing Atlantic to snorkel with seals off the coast of Cape Town.
- The seals are playful and very curious to see you in their hood.
- You won't find the Cape Fur seals anywhere else in the world.
There is a safari like nothing else on earth and all you need do is brave the freezing Atlantic off Cape Town to see it.
Hidden beneath these frigid waves is an experience of a lifetime - snorkeling with curious Cape Fur seals that dance and play in the wild, they’re like the puppies of the ocean.
Zoologist Steve Benjamin so loved hanging out with seals that he built a business around it. From his parents’ garage in Hout Bay, he founded Animal Ocean.
Ten years on it is now a full-fledged marine tourism company, that runs snorkeling trips to Duiker Island. It also takes people on Sardine Run safaris and has worked with the likes of National Geographic as well as the BBC to capture unique undersea footage.
Here’s what it's like to go underwater with seals:
At the Hout Bay departure point, snorkelers are equipped with everything they need including 5mm thick wetsuits, 5mm booties, gloves and a 2mm vest to keep you warm in the water.
You are also fed biscuits and coffee.
It costs R900 per person. GoPros can be rented to record your experience. It’s well worth it if you don’t have your own underwater camera.
After a diving brief, which covers all safety requirements and some info about the Cape Fur seal, you are whisked away to the harbour and jump on this boat.
The boat ride to Duiker Island with its 5,000 strong seal colony takes about 15 minutes.
It is located in the Karbonkelberg Marine Protected Area, part of Table Mountain National Park.
This island is not known for any Great White shark activity as it is surrounded by cold water (8°C – 15°C), shallow kelp forests and home to relatively fewer seals than colonies elsewhere on the coast.
With the wetsuits on you don’t feel the cold much.
The water was around 15 degrees Celsius – warmer than usual, but still not enough to swim without a wetsuit. The team does have hot water on the boat if you need to warm up.
Almost immediately we saw seals.
You get to dive for around 40-50 minutes, which is plenty of time to explore. Any longer and you would probably start to get cold.
Make sure to ask for a weight-belt before going in the water. The wetsuits are very buoyant and to go deeper you’ll need the extra weight to swim alongside the seals underwater.
The seals are curious to see you in their hood.
They’re also very graceful and playful. Cape Fur seals are only found off the southern African coast - you won't find them anywhere else in the world. And, unlike encountering lions on safari, they won't eat you.
You can swim between the kelp forests - where you can find sea life from crabs to other fish.
A trick I picked up was to dive down and hold on to the kelp stems. It helps to stay still in the surge.
The swell can leave you sea sick, so consider taking a motion sickness tablet.
The weather can also change quickly. Its important to note trips are dependent on weather and ocean conditions. There is no guarantee the water will be clear.
The best times for interactions are during the end of March and into April when the seal pups start to swim.
Once you are done, hot chocolate is offered as you make your way back to the harbour.
Back at the diving centre there are hot showers, towels and more coffee.
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