Underwater tourism taps into an adventure of a different kind. Snorkeling with seals happens to be a very popular option since it’s usually less challenging than scuba diving.
Not only that, but it can be a surreal experience to see those magical water dogs in their natural habitat.
If the idea seems appealing to you, all you need now is the right guide to help you navigate your way through the whole deal, from the general safety tips to the most minute details.
So, without further ado, let’s jump right in with a conclusive seal snorkeling guide that will cover all the questions you might have!
Seal snorkeling is a form of underwater tourism that’s getting more and more popular today. It usually involves an hour or so of supervised snorkeling around seals in their natural habitat, taking pictures, and enjoying the view.
It definitely makes for an unforgettable experience that most of us look forward to. First, let’s cover some basics:
Seal snorkeling tours can be safe if practiced right and under the proper supervision.
While seals have a reputation for biting, they’re not particularly aggressive the majority of the time.
You just have to follow the guidelines provided by the program to avoid threatening the animals. Keep in mind that a skilled guide who knows what they’re doing will always make you feel safe.
If your concern is about potential shark attacks, you can always just opt for shark-free zones.
Human interactions with wildlife can often cause more harm than benefit. That said, it’s still possible to enjoy snorkeling with seals while being considerate of the delicate balance of marine life.
To keep your underwater trip as ethical as possible, stick to the following:
- Visit marine life in its natural habitat and avoid tourism that involves captive animals
- Don’t rip any part of the underwater kelp
- Use buoyancy to avoid scraping the reef
- Leave no trash behind
- Never feed the animals
- Maintain a respectful and non-invasive approach from start to end
- Choose sustainable and environmentally-friendly tours
Seal snorkeling is a perfect fit for confident swimmers looking for an adrenaline rush with marine creatures. You’ll have to get in and out of inflatable vessels without ladders, too. So, a moderate fitness level will definitely help.
It’s not going to work for children (under 10 years old) or poor swimmers at all, though. It might be safer for pregnant women than scuba diving, but it’s still better to check with your physician.
The mechanics of snorkeling is rather simple. You don’t need any particular skills other than swimming.
The tricky part is getting to prepare yourself for the experience, from the booking to interacting with the seals safely. If you’re already hyped about the idea, you might want to see how the whole process actually works.
Let’s see what you should expect from your seal snorkeling trip:
The snorkeling trip starts with booking a spot on a program. Most companies will have two sessions daily, but you’ll have to reserve a place in advance because the groups are limited.
A typical seal snorkeling tour will have around 10 participants. Going in small groups like this helps the guide keep an eye on everyone.
If this is your first time around, always keep in mind that a seal snorkeling trip without a certified guide is highly unrecommended. Yes, even if you’re an excellent swimmer.
Ideally, you’ll want to look for a divemaster with a PADI license or any other certification on the same level. Besides that, skim for all the included items in the package and the requirements to make sure nothing will pop up and ruin the day for you.
On the tour day, the participants are asked to gear up before heading out to the location. However, snorkeling gear can be rather expensive.
That’s where all-inclusive packages come to the rescue. In this case, the tour should get you covered for your wetsuit and all the necessary equipment. This includes the mask, snorkel, fins, and maybe a pair of neoprene socks.
The wetsuit here isn’t your typical swimwear, either. It’s usually a full-length 5mm hefty thing. Although it’s a challenge to squeeze into, it’s a must-have regardless of the weather. It can help improve buoyancy and protect from sunburns, too.
This way, you won’t have to worry about bringing anything other than a towel, a change of clothes, and some sunscreen.
Once you’re all geared up, you’ll head to the meeting point and get to know your guide, the rest of the group members, and the boat skipper.
Since the seal colonies are usually further off the shore, you’ll be in for an inflatable boat ride. It’s not a long commute at all, and it can be a fun experience to build up the rush for what’s to come. After all, the view in most snorkeling sites is breathtaking.
However, the boat we’re talking about here is tiny and inflatable. It’s the kind where you fix your feet under the floor ropes and sit on the sides, only a couple of feet off the water.
While it might not be the most luxurious or fancy, it’s efficient and gets you where you need fast. Soon, you’ll be flopping back into the water and starting the actual snorkeling portion of the trip!
In almost all seal snorkeling sites, the water is on the shallow side, ranging from 3.2 to 16.4 feet deep. Depending on the water clarity, you can see anywhere from 32 to 130 feet around you.
It’s hard to give you a clear estimate of the number of seals you’ll see since it differs from one location to the other and even from time to time.
What we can tell you for sure is that seals are inquisitive little creatures. You might have heard that they’re good swimmers, but seeing them in motion is a whole different experience. They’ll swim circles around you, go up and down, and dazzle you with quite the show!
Without burning things too much for you, let’s just say that seeing a seal show in a marine park doesn’t even compare to the real deal.
If you’re lucky, you might even get to spot a pup or even a couple of dolphins. So, keep your fingers crossed!
Different companies around the world run seal snorkeling tours. While you might want to go somewhere specific to see a seal species that you find interesting, it’ll mostly come down to logistics.
Booking a flight and a hotel stay can quickly wrap up the costs. So, you’ll want to go to the closest location, at least as a first-timer.
Here are the top seal snorkeling options for you to consider:
- Harbor seals in Nanaimo on the Canadian Snake Island
- Monk seals in the Hawaiian Kauai or Hanauma Bay
- New Zealand fur seals on the Kaikōura Peninsula
- Gray seals in the cold waters of the Farne Islands in the UK
- Cape fur seals among the dense kelp reef in Hout Bay in South Africa
While some locations will offer year-round seal snorkeling tours, you’ll want to hit the right window for each specific location.
For instance, May and April work best in Cape Town. Meanwhile, Kaikoura is better from December to February.
It’s safer to check the average water temperatures where you’re going first.
Diving solo is generally a bad idea. However, snorkeling is a bit different since you don’t go anywhere as deep. When you’re snorkeling, you’ll mostly go for shallow waters, so it’s not as challenging as scuba diving.
That said, it’s still not recommended to go seal snorkeling solo unless you have extensive experience.
If you do decide to go all alone, let someone know where you’re going exactly and when they can expect you back. Plus, you can carry a few handy gadgets with you, like an emergency whistle or a signaling device.
Odds are, this is your very first time snorkeling with seals. In that case, it’s vital that you go as a part of a guided tour.
It’s just an all-around safer option. Even if the accident rate is low, your best bet is to be surrounded by a group that can come in and help if anything goes wrong.
Before you set on a one-of-a-kind snorkeling experience, you might want to keep a few things in mind. After all, being well-prepared will only help you enjoy yourself to the fullest.
Here are a few tips and tricks for first-time seal snorkelers:
1. Watch Out for the Sea Sickness
It’s not a common occurrence, but some of the most proficient swimmers tend to get sea sick. While the boat ride will usually be around 10-20 minutes, you might still need to keep a few tricks up your sleeve.
Try to look where the boat is heading, lock your eyes on the horizon, and focus on your breathing. If it helps, strike a conversation with one of your group members to ease the tension.
Before heading out on the trip, you can also ask your physician if taking a non-sedating motion sickness medication is a good move for you.
2. Only Wear Impeccable Gear
In most cases, people go seal snorkeling as a part of a full program that lends you out the equipment.
There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you double-check that they’re giving you washed gear. Plus, you’ll have to make sure that the equipment you’re using is generally in good condition.
The snorkel should sit comfortably in your mouth, and the mask should fit snugly around your eyes and nose. If you have trouble with the visibility, you might want to swap it for a different one.
Move on to check that the fins are intact and flexible with a fitting foot pocket. A pair of neoprene socks will take you a long way if the fins rub your feet.
3. Brace Yourself for the Cold Waters
If you’re snorkeling somewhere warm, you don’t have to worry about this step. However, flopping back from the inflatable boat and into the cold water can be challenging for many people, even the most experienced swimmers.
That’s why you want to prepare in advance with a thick wetsuit, a steady heart rate, and a lot of bravery!
4. Get an Underwater Camera for the Day
Aside from the main gear and wetsuit, you might want to opt for an underwater camera. It’s a really good opportunity to capture the seals swimming around and maybe take a dazzling new selfie!
So, double-check if there’s a place to rent a camera. If not, you’ll have to buy or borrow one before the trip.
Just make sure that you have an SD card on hand and a secure strap.
5. Never Chase the Seals
Things like this should go without saying, but unfortunately, some people tend to get carried away by the whole experience.
No matter what you do, don’t chase, hold, or disturb the seals in any way. Some will be more friendly than others and will swim near you. Others will prefer to stay back at a comfortable distance, and that’s okay.
It’s not just for ethical reasons, either. These restrictions and guidelines are there to keep you safe, too. Generally speaking, the seals are more likely to attack if they sense that you’re a danger.
Snorkeling with seals is a very feasible goal, provided that you’re a good swimmer who’s ready to take on an adventure.
Thankfully, most tours will do all the heavy lifting for you, from gearing up to the boat ride back home.
Remember to keep the safety guidelines in mind, be respectful of nature, and have a blast taking an item off your bucket list!