Fur Seals. The name alone brings forth images of large globules of blubber floating ever so majestically through soft ocean currents. While they do occasionally present themselves in such a manner, it will quickly become apparent upon viewing them that this is a highly romanticised perception of their appearance and features.
After driving two hours to Port Vincent, a town adjacent to a small Fur Seal colony, it quickly became apparent that I had been wrong about these denizens of the sea on all points but one – blubber. They are fat. Though, in a sense, that gives them a lovable appearance. What I didn’t expect was the smell. They stink. Nonetheless, I was determined to swim with Fur Seals and a slight smell and a flawed perception of their majesty was not about to stop me.
With wetsuit on back and GoPro in-hand, I entered the calm ocean water about ten metres down from the colony. I spent several hours in the water and had an incredible time. During said time, I came to view them as beautiful creatures with an inquisitive nature that transcends their pudgy appearance. And a significant amount of reflection on my decision. I answered one question. Can you swim with wild Fur Seals? Yes. Quite easily. But, another question reared its ugly head; should you swim with wild Fur Seals?
Where to find them?
Fur Seals, in this specific case New Zealand Fur Seals, can be found along Australia’s coast and extensively throughout New Zealand. The seals I visited live in a small colony, numbering just 10 or so, on a rocky outcrop near the coastal town of Port Vincent in South Australia.
Another much larger colony lives in the Coorong near Goolwa. This area would have presented less of a safety issue than open ocean, but the water is so murky that it is nearly impossible to find Seals nor know that your swimming with them even if they were within metres of you.
If you find yourself looking for Fur Seals in South Australia and wish to do so in reasonably clear water, Port Vincent is your best bet, followed closely Kangaroo Island. Although, the latter will cost a greater amount to reach (Cost of Kangaroo Island Ferry).
The legality of swimming with wild Fur Seals.
In Australia, Fur Seals are a protected species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Under this policy, it is illegal to harm, kill or harass Fur Seals.
I would not purport to understand any of the legal jargon that entangles the Australian ‘justice’ system, but I would not think of it as too much of a stretch for a snarly civil servant to warp the act of swimming with Fur Seals into one of harassment. However, any reasonable person would likely leave you to your own devices without hassle.
I had no problem and being that Port Vincent is a small country town, you are unlikely to be challenged on your decision to swim with the seals.
Is it hazardous?
The seals themselves are known to be aggressive when they feel threatened. This has resulted in some puncture wounds for unsuspecting surfers and divers. These have tended to be isolated incidents and under unfamiliar conditions to the seals that promote aggressive behaviour. You must remember they are wild animals and needed to be treated as such!
They also pose an unintentional threat when being friendly. When interacting with other seals it is a common habit to bite. Seals have thick coats which allow this practice to be harmless. However, we don’t have thick coats and their bites can cause issues even if it wasn’t done with such intent.
The final threat, that only became apparent to me when I started to reflect on the dive, was not to do with the seals, but the creatures they share the ocean with – sharks. Specifically, Great White Sharks which are known to regularly visit the waters of Port Vincent. Creatures whose favourite snack is large unsuspecting seals. And any small unsuspecting seal lookalikes my risk a nasty investigatory bite.
Just be mindful that sharks do petrol these waters and realise that, should any trouble occur, the ramifications are entirely your own doing and not that of the inquisitive sharks!
Despite all the aforementioned points, several industries have been established around swimming with Fur Seals and with great success. However, as of this moment, none exist in South Australia, so your just going to have to do it under your own heading.
Will you be swimming with wild New Zealand Fur Seals on your visit to South Australia?