Duiker Island, off the coast of Hout Bay in the Karbonkelberg marine protected area, is home to about 5 000 Cape fur seals. Megan Banner spoke to Kate Horne of Animal Ocean about the company’s guided snorkelling trips, designed to get you up close and personal with these critters.

What’s Animal Ocean all about? 

We offer a number of guided marine activities, including sardine-run safaris, filming and photography trips, and big-wave surfing adventures, but our main activity remains seal snorkelling. Our enthusiastic owner and zoologist Steve Benjamin has worked to weave a path between tourism and scientific research. We therefore cater to everyone, from non-swimmers to National Geographic photographers and conservation biologists, in an attempt to spread good, salty vibes and increase understanding of our oceans. We also try to help conserve our oceans by organising monthly beach clean-ups, teaching the public not to litter, and by encouraging ‘look, don’t touch’ behaviour with all of our wildlife activities. 

What makes seal snorkelling a special activity? 

Seal snorkelling is 100% natural. We do not bait or scare the seals into the water. We simply get into the water and they naturally come and see what and who we are. The Cape fur seals are just like puppy dogs and think we are there for their entertainment. They love playing and jumping around you. It is a really wonderful experience and great fun for the whole family. While the seals are the main attraction at Duiker Island, we sometimes see whales, dolphins and sunfish too. 

What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen a seal do?

A seal once misjudged the distance as it leapt over a client, landing right on the client. Another was once so playful it was bouncing off the side of our pontoons on the boat.
The cutest thing I’ve seen is a client who was so calm and still in the water that a seal started falling in love with her! He slowly swam up to her and put his nose on her nose for a kiss, letting his whiskers tickle her forehead. It was love at first sight.

Do you worry about sharks?

We have been leading these trips for seven years and have never seen a shark in these waters. A few factors contribute to this: The area where we snorkel is very shallow, only one to four metres deep, and the water temperature is only about nine degrees. Then, the area itself is also enclosed by kelp beds, a reef and the island, making it very protected and difficult for sharks to access. 

What practical details are good to know when booking a trip? 

We are open from September to May, and the seals are most active in the heat of summer. The water is still very chilly, so thick wetsuits are provided, as well as full snorkelling gear including fins, masks and snorkels. You need not be an experienced snorkeller, but should be confident and comfortable in the open ocean. You can also view the seals from the boat. Boat viewers should always take a rain or wind jacket, and everyone should include sun lotion, a towel, sunglasses and, of course, a camera. If you’re worried you may get seasick, take one motion-sickness tablet the night before and one before the trip. The minimum age to sit on the boat is six years, and the minimum age to snorkel is 10. We have recently upgraded to an office near the boat launch site, and offer showers and changing facilities for after the trip.

For more information, visit animalocean.co.za, or call 072 296 9132 (Monday–Saturday, 8 am – 4 pm). Email [email protected] to make a booking.
Photography Getty Images

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