The Cape Seal of Approval
Authored by Kai Edem (she/her)
(Kai is a second-year undergraduate student at Agnes Scott College, majoring in Neuroscience. She is excited to discover more about research opportunities available during her internship in South Africa. While in South Africa Kai is excited to learn about the local vegetarian foods and explore Cape Town from the mountains to the sea.)
If there’s one thing I make obvious about myself, it’s that I love fur seals. I don’t remember when they became my favorite animal, but having always been a person who loves dogs, these “dogs of the sea” are playful and inquisitive and I’m a little bit obsessed with them. I love them so much I have a tattoo of a fur seal.
When I was placed for my internship in Cape Town, I delved a little deeper into researching South Africa. I found out there is a species of fur seal endemic to the coast of Namibia, and the western and southern coasts of South Africa. I knew immediately I was going to find a way to see them.
Exploring the waterfront areas of Cape Town I quickly learned that if there is a harbor, there are fur seals. As I continued to learn about Cape Town, I found Duiker Island in Hout Bay. It’s a rookery — a place where colonies of seals haul out together. Up to 7,000 fur seals can haul out onto this rock at a time. There are ocean excursion organizations that host snorkel groups to swim around the island. There was no option, I simply had to go. It actually took a while to find an organization that would take us snorkeling, since it was wintertime — most snorkeling programs only operate from August to May. I found a tour company hosting excursions at the end of July, just after my birthday. I roped some of my friends from my program into joining me on the adventure.
We were promised 45 minutes in the water, wetsuits and snorkel gear, and hot chocolate and cookies afterward. When we arrived in Hout Bay, there were fur seals lined along the docks. We hurriedly got suited up in buoyancy vests and full-body wetsuits, they even had hoods. Considering how poor the weather had been earlier that week, the day was clear and cool and it was still low tide. It was the perfect condition to snorkel with fur seals.
We took a short boat ride out to Duiker Island, and it was packed with fur seals. The top of every rock on the island was covered in them. Most of them were lounging flat on the rocks, a few were perched up on their front flippers, their noses pointed to the sky — males displaying their dominance. There were a few swimming in the water, almost galloping with the way they leaped above the surface. Needless to say, I was eager to get in so we jumped into the cold ocean water. The wetsuits kept us surprisingly warm and we floated with ease. As it was low tide the swell wasn’t too bad and it was easy for most of us to adjust to the water. While the visibility in the water was great, we didn’t actually see that many seals under the water. Fur seals swim very quickly, so if you’re not looking in the right place at the right time, you might miss them. It was still an amazing experience.
After our time in the water, we boarded the boat, enjoyed our cocoa, and headed back to shore all laughing and reminiscing about this day none of us will ever forget. My time in Cape Town has been about so much more than just the internship. It has been about exploration, discovery, friendship, fur seals, and so much more.