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Cape Fur Seal Snorkelling for Beginners!

written by Chanele Jenkinson

Snorkeling with Cape Fur seals in Cape Town.

Posted on Friday, 31 January 2014

I wake up with a stomach of butterflies… Today is the day I get the opportunity of snorkelling with seals! I’d seen many pictures, watched a few video’s and heard nothing but elated stories from others that had done the trip before.


We make our way to Hout Bay, Cape Town  to Steve Benjamin’s “Animal Ocean”, where we are greeted by Steve and his two guides. As I’m given all my gear, the excitement heightens. Once everyone is ready and kitted up we are given a brief on where exactly we are going, the basic information on the Cape Fur Seals, and the do’s and don’ts.


Finally it’s time to board the rubber duck and make our way to Duiker Island (the seal island of Hout Bay). As soon as we get outside the harbour walls, Steve tells us to hold on and increases speed.


We arrive and what a sight… Seals frolicking in the water and having a look at us as we approach, an island covered by seals of all sizes, the sound of young seals (which sounds very similar to sheep) can be heard constantly, all teamed up with Mount Sentinel as a back drop. With all of this to take in, as well as the sun beating down on us in our thick wetsuits, I was certainly ready to jump right in!


The shot-line is in the water and we’re given the go ahead. I don my mask, snorkel and fins and slide off the boat into the water. All is well when suddenly the wetsuit seems to be getting tighter on my chest. I think it’s temporary, maybe wetsuits get tighter in the water? The tightness doesn’t go away, and I start to panic. The water seemed to have gotten rougher, however I’m adamant I won’t put my snorkel in my mouth as surely water will come in the top? I try to put my face in the water but water seems to come into the mask, rushing to my nose and eyes. This has now turned into full on panic while trying to stay on my back and keep my head up so as to not constantly swallow sea water. After what felt like ages but in “non-panic time” was maybe 10 – 12 minutes, and after the guide and my colleague re-assuring me that my mask and snorkel were working fine, I slowly began to believe they must be right, but I was still on edge! My colleague sternly tells me to put my snorkel in my mouth, takes my hand, and we start swimming towards the seals. For now I’m focusing on calming my breathing and getting this all to work. Look through the mask, breathe through the snorkel, why am I so scared? Suddenly a seal darts below me and all I catch is a glimpse! With that I forget about my panic, or concentrating on how to breathe, I want to see more! We swim a bit further and we have reached them; a handful of seals swimming around us. I feel like a little child in a sweet shop, I’m not sure where to look. Some seals continue to dart through all the snorkelers, having a blast in the water. Others bob on the surface with their flippers in the air having a look around. I’m here, and this is happening, I forget I’m in the ocean, even the currents were no longer a  worry. 

We swim a bit further and we have reached them; a handful of seals swimming around us. I feel like a little child in a sweet shop, I’m not sure where to look.

With calmness having been restored, I am again able to take in the beauty, this time of the world under the water…  While waiting for seals to pass I find myself looking at the seaweed, the plants and mussels, and how everything sways in the current.  Something that would usually seem so boring is now fascinating me. I hear my colleague talking and think she is talking to me, but quickly realise it is a seal, maybe one meter in front of us. It stays there for a short while, sussing us out, before blowing bubbles at us and swimming away. This happened numerous times, although they were more interested in swimming around franticly and riding the waves than giving us too much attention. We decide we’ve had enough of the currrent, and decide to get back on board. I sit for a while just staring at the seals, completely perplexed by what I had just experienced… I had the same feeling when I did a cage dive with Great White Sharks. To be so close to nature, and experience them in their natural habitat is an experience not many can top, as any nature enthusiast will tell you.


From this trip, I discovered I have a deep down fear of the ocean and the power  it possesses, but also an eagerness to do it again and become comfortable enough to face my fear, and be able to take full advantage of the time given to me to make the most of the experience. As stunning as the ocean is, we should never forget that it too is a part of the nature we seek to enjoy, and it too has a wild side. This is a respect that I will always keep with me.


So a big thank you for the opportunity, to the guide who stayed near me until I was alright to start snorkelling, and a special thank you to my colleague Karyn for quickly making me come to the realisation that there was no need to panic, and to just enjoy myself and relax. This is such a special trip to experience, and can be done by anyone from children to adults, absolute beginners (such as myself) to the experts, who also have the option to scuba. The only requirement is that you need to be able to swim. It’s not a long trip, so be sure to include this tour in your visit to Cape Town. You can find more information on seal snorkeling here.


Marine Life, Cape Fur Seal, Seal Snorkeling

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