This post is dedicated to Kate, who has a deep and abiding love for seals, and can think of nothing better than cuddling up to one – underwater or on land. (Actually, not – Kate hates seals, and is convinced that behind their puppy-dog features lurks evil intent. Apparently a woman in Cornwall was dragged off her body board and drowned by a playful seal, and this has led to Kate’s profound mistrust of these creatures.)
A good place to see seals is in harbours – Kalk Bay, the V&A Waterfront and Hout Bay harbour have large (and I mean that in the sense of numerically and also in terms of waistline) seal populations, no doubt attracted by the presence of the fishermen. A busy day at the slipway at Miller’s Point always includes a seal or two, as the fishermen gut their catch while they wait in the queue. The fish guts thrown over the side of the boats are perfect seal snacks.
There are a couple of places in Cape Town where you can go to dive with seals (and be guaranteed multiple sightings). Both these locations are also suitable for snorkeling, as long as there isn’t too big a swell (you’ll be swimming around a large rock in both cases).
We’ve seen seals on many of our other dives. They’re frequent visitors at Long Beach and at the SS Clan Stuart, even on night dives (which can be a bit scary until you know what the dark shape tailing you is!). They like to hang upside down in front of divers, sometimes barking underwater (big teeth!) and often biting on bubbles. It’s lovely (yes, Kate) to have a friendly seal swimming next to you and checking you out with his big liquid black eyes.
On the surface, seals often lie with one flipper sticking out of the water. This is for temperature regulation – like whales, they’re well padded with blubber (this is why sharks like to eat them), but on their tails and flippers the veins are much closer to the surface. It’s a bit like sticking your leg out of the duvet at night to cool down, though I suspect for seals it’s often to warm up.
Happy and playful seals also give us a great deal of comfort as divers, because it means there are no sharks in the vicinity. The absence of seals does not necessarily mean there ARE sharks around, but if you were at one of the seal colonies and not a single seal joined you in the water, or if they were all crawling along the bottom, I’d be a bit worried!