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GGo out to sea along South Africa’s west or southern coastline, and there’s an excellent chance of sighting a sinuous and curious seal.
There are around 2-million seals on South African and Namibian shores. It’s a staggering comeback for a species that was near 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. Now seals are breeding on the mainland, which has led to a dramatic population growth.
One of the biggest colonies is now in Kleinzee, along South Africa’s west coast, which plays host to around 450 000 seals. There are other, smaller concentrations of seals off and along Gansbaai, Hout Bay, Plettenberg Bay and Cape Town.
The great white sharks certainly aren’t complaining – seals have become a major food source for them. 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 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 are mostly brown, but pups are born black and slowly grow lighter.
Seals are ballet dancers in the water, porpoising alongside boats and bobbing up to gaze at you with enormous eyes. They’re playful, and like interacting with divers and snorkellers. Sometimes they’ll loaf in the slight swell, flippers aloft, sunning themselves and keeping an eye out for fish to eat. When you encounter one, you’ll likely encounter a few more.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Drumbeat Charters, Hout Bay
Tel: +27 (0)21 791 4441
Simon’s Town Boat Company, False Bay
Tel: + 27 (0)83 257 7760
Dyer Island Cruises, Van Dyks Bay
Tel: +27 (0)82 801 8014
Offshore Adventures, Plettenberg Bay
Tel: +27 (0)82 829 0809
Things to do
If you want to swim with the seals, Offshore Adventures in Plettenberg Bay will arrange a splash around.
What to pack
If you’ve booked a swim with the seals, remember to pack your swimming gear, a towel and a camera.