Kayaking with Australian fur seals

By Carolyn Barry 5 February 2014
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At first you might think it’s a typo when you see ‘seal kayaking’. But think again: this is actually kayaking with seals.

Located about 500m off the shore of Apollo Bay on Victoria’s south-eastern coast is a rocky island when a large colony of Australian fur seals (and occasional leopard and elephant seals) has taken residence. And it’s one of the few places where you can see these marine creatures up close and personal.

The guys at Apollo Bay Surf and Kakay rent out sit-on-top kayaks, or you can paddle out yourself if you have the equipment. Fur seals, like sea lions, are quite curious and used to humans, so when you cruise on by the island, the seals often drag themselves into the water to check you out – and to show off.

Once one goes in, the whole group tends to follow, so you might have a dozen or two seals playing in the water around you. They’ll jump out of the water, twisting around and diving around your kayak – sometime just within a metre or two. The water is pretty clear down this way, so you can often see the dark shape zoom under the kayak.

Seal kayaking on the Great Ocean coast

A big bull seal, the male of the harem might also put in a few barks to let you know he knows you’re there. But otherwise he’ll continue to soak up the rays from the sunny rocks.

Around early spring the seals are shedding their winter coat and can often be seen literally bottom up, with their flippers in the air as they rub twist around, rubbing against rocks and each other to slough off their old fur. It’s quite a scene to see so many seal bums in the air with their flippers – which are split like two feet – splashing around.

Every now and again one will pop its head up and look straight at you, as if to check if you’re watching its antics.

If you get too close to a group as you coast along, the seals somehow, in a coordinated instant, suddenly all dive under and pop up just a few metres away. They have good vision and will see you coming a mile away.

Kayaking with seals an amazing animal experience

And if you’re wondering about sharks, there’s not much to worry about. This colony is main adults, and sharks tend to attack breeding colonies where seal pups are easy targets, so you don’t see them much around here. The island is also surrounded largely by bull kelp, which sharks aren’t so fond of swimming through, and which act as a great hiding spot for the seals if they do get spooked.

It’s an amazing animal experience and such a rarity to be this close to wild marine animals that are curious to hang around you for a while.