Did you know?
Cape fur seals can dive down to 200 metres, and can stay under water for seven minutes.
Go out to sea along South Africa’s west or southern coastline, and there’s an excellent chance of sighting a sinuous and curious seal.
Seals are ballet dancers in the water, porpoising alongside boats and bobbing up to gaze at you with enormous eyes. They’re playful and will sometimes interact with divers and snorkellers. Sometimes they’ll loaf in the slight swell, flippers aloft, sunning themselves and keeping an eye out for a likely fish to eat.
There are around two million seals on South African and Namibian shores. It’s a staggering comeback for species that was thoroughly decimated a century ago.
That, of course, was in the days when sealing was rampant. Since then, sealing has stopped in South Africa and things have turned around completely for the Cape fur seals.
They used to be limited to breeding on islands to avoid land-based predators. But humans have caused the numbers of these predators to drop and now seals are breeding on the mainland, which has led to a dramatic population growth.
One of the biggest colonies is now at Kleinzee along South Africa’s West Coast, with up to 450 000 individuals.
There are other, smaller concentrations of them off and along Gansbaai, Hout Bay, Plettenberg Bay and Cape Town.
The great white sharks certainly aren’t complaining. This has become a major food source for them. A standard shark-attracting decoy is a cut-out seal shape used on most shark-watching operations in False Bay, Gansbaai and Mossel Bay.
The fishermen complain bitterly about the seals, but they are a pleasure to watch (although being downwind of a colony can be an assault on the nostrils).
Cape fur seals (also called South African fur seals) have small, somewhat comical, rolled up ears, which is why they’re also called eared seals. They’re fairly agile on land and climb rocks surprisingly well. They’re mostly brown, but shades vary from caramel to dark chocolate. The pups are born black and slowly grow lighter.