Goggle-eyed “dogs” of the ocean, seals and sea lions receive much playful attention from divers who travel the world to see them. Often treated much like their topside doppelgängers, pinnipeds are able to demonstrate an understanding of transitivity and simple syntax, and have been taught simple tricks by travelling circus trainers and zookeepers for centuries. To help you fin-kick your way to finding your very own underwater companion, we bring you eight of the best places to dive with them:
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town hosts many sites where divers can get up close to seals. Often a must for every scuba enthusiast, diving with seals can be an enchanting experience; searching the kelp forest around Duiker Island, Partridge Point and Strawberry Rock for an encounter. Sight-seers from above the surface on the boat deck can see the seals in their thousands resting upon the large granite boulders that stick out of the ocean.
La Paz, Mexico
They say “to truly appreciate the beauty of La Paz, you have to look beneath the surface.” Below the blue blanket you’ll find large pelagics; juvenile whale sharks, mobula rays, and rafts of sea lions that will playfully swim up to you and then skittishly swim away as if simulating a game of “fetch”.
Frequent visitors of the destination are the northern elephant seals in breeding colonies; sometimes dormant on the shore, other times lively in battle. The shores of California are a multi-species enclave, with many types of seals and sea lions, including the harbour seal and Steller’s sea lion.
Hornby Island, British Columbia
Like an evergreen shrub, Hornby Island’s diving remains relatively similar year-round. Harbour seals are year round patrons, whilst Steller’s and California sea lions arrive at the dawn of winter to feed on the huge school of herring that pass through. The clear visibility and gentle currents make Hornby Island the perfect place to watch these pinnipeds pull off incredible acrobatics.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The pinnacle for many divers of their dive careers, the Galapagos Islands are home to both sea lions and seals – as well as plenty of other large animals that would feature on many diving bucket-lists. Since the Galapagos are volcanic oceanic islands, unconnected to the continent, deep sea upwellings make the waters rich in nutrients and therefore thriving with life.
Farne Islands, UK
The shore is often filled with grey seals lounging on the rocks at low tide. But when the tide is high, the waters are crowded by seals squeezing through the portholes of early 20th century wrecks. Come whisker-to-whisker with a mature bull seal – 300 kilograms, notoriously clumsy on land, yet incredibly balletic when their fins touch water – and it will be unforgettable experience.
Marlborough Sound, New Zealand
The headline act of many of the area’s eco tours, the New Zealand fur seals are found in large colonies on the waterside. There are many ways to experience these pinnipeds up close, from the sea-soaked seat of a kayak, to diving below the waves with your BCD.
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Referred to, by those who have dived here, as the “Little Galapagos”, Cocos Island National Park houses a rich diversity of marine life. Its ideal climate, exposure to a variety of ocean currents, caves, volcanic tunnels and reefs make it an undisputed underwater haven for marine life.