Seal Island in False Bay is home to well over 60 000 bawling, squalling, squabbling Cape fur seals. They’re top of the menu for the great white sharks that patrol this area, and there’s always a chance to see a spectacular (and bruising) encounter between the two species.

Did you know?

Apart from seals, the island and surrounds are also visited by sharks, dolphins and whales.

The best way to see a seal’s true abilities is under water, when it looks like a comical dog that can fly. But even on the surface, without any grace evident, this is still a fascinating animal. If you go to Seal Island, you’ll find out why.

Seal Island is a modest-sized island less than 6km out to sea in the huge False Bay just off Hout Bay outside Cape Town. There are a number of boats that can take you there.

Once you are at the island, you’ll have a feeling you’re watching an exotic soap opera in another language, starring more than 60 000 actors.

The whole island is an ever-changing scene of brown bodies stretching, hauling their clumsy bodies along the rocks, blissfully scratching themselves with their silly hind-flippers, arching their backs like yogis, bellowing and orking at one another, squabbling and mock-biting, pups yelling for their mothers in unnervingly human voices. They’re all shades of brown, from dark chocolate through to mahogany and pale Weimaraner.

These are officially known as Cape fur seals, and those comical little tags on the side of their necks will tell you why they are called ‘eared seals’.

This is not the kind of island where you can disembark – it’s way too rocky. Not that you would want to – skippers try to keep well upwind of the island, which has a distinctive smell.

The seals are well aware that they are the favourite meal of sharks and enter the ocean with a degree of caution. In fact, a few visitors have seen the famous ‘Air Jaws’ manoeuvre as a shark has launched a flying attack on a seal. This is where the famous Discovery Channel filmed their famous documentary of the same name. Maybe you’ll be lucky too.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Cape Point Route
Tel: +27 (0) 21 782 9356

How to get here

Simon's Town, under an hour from the centre of Cape Town, is a very convenient departure point for many boats to Seal Island.

Best time to visit

The seals are there all year round. If you want to up your chances of seeing sharks, the best season is winter – May to September. The sea is choppier then, though.

Around the area

Simon's Town is a fascinating historic naval town with plenty of museums and places of interest. It also boasts excellent seafood restaurants. This is also the home of Boulders Beach, where African penguins nest.

What to pack

Even when it's sunny ashore, it can be chilly at sea. Take a waterproof jacket and a hat.

Where to stay

Cape Town and Simon's Town have many places to stay. Check Cape Town Tourism's accommodation database, or give one of its visitor centres a call.

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