Sealing the Deal: a Harbour Experience

“Under the sea, darling it’s better. Down where it’s wetter, take it from me.”

Samuel E. Wright, “Under the Sea”; The Little Mermaid

It’s 2.3 metres long, weighs almost 300 kg, lives in Cape Town and doesn’t play rugby for the Stormers. It can, however, dive to over 200 metres and stay underwater for almost eight minutes, so perhaps underwater hockey would be a better sports option. We are talking about the male Cape fur seal, of course, and these playful carnivorous mammals are a common sight along the coastline of South Africa. In fact, they occupy the oceans around southern Africa from Cape Cross in Namibia right around Cape Point to L’Agulhas and as far south-east as Black Rocks near Port Elizabeth. As a result, the various large seal colonies have reached iconic status and are visited by humans wherever possible: with a great lack of imagination, there are numerous Seal Islands all around the Cape coastline, the most famous probably being that in the middle of False Bay. Getting up close to a colony is an experience to be savoured: the noise is amazing. Mother seals communicate with their pups individually and call to them when they return from the sea to the rocks. A few thousand mother-seals bleating is a sound that will be remembered.

Did you know: Adult male Cape Fur Seals are dark grey to brown, with a darker mane of short, coarse hairs and a light belly.

Cape fur seals were hunted relentlessly during earlier centuries; their fur is luxurious, and some misguided people believed (and still do in places East) that the male seal’s genitalia has aphrodisiacal properties. The mind boggles at man’s ability to wipe out entire species for our own crazed pursuits: rhinos and Cape seals being hunted to extinction for the pursuits of the flesh…crazy. Fortunately, level-headed conservationists have intervened – in Australia, seal hunting was banned in 1923, and, although it took many decades, South Africa followed suit in 1990. Namibia, sadly, still issues permits for pup harvesting (can you think of a more cruel, emotionless, expression?), and those genitalia and soft fur pelts are still sold on the open market. We can only hope that sanity and science will one day prevail. An unfortunate by-product of the international recovery of the seal populations has been the dispute between local fisherman, seals and ecologists. The seals, unsurprisingly, given that they live there, believe that the oceans supply their food: fish, crustaceans, squid and crabs. The fisherman, unsurprisingly, given that they make their living from catching fish, crustaceans, squid and crabs, feel that seals are competition for resources, and as seal populations grow, so does competition. Some fishermen want the seals removed, or hunting to be sanctioned again. We know who we back in this particular dispute.

The V&A Waterfront has had a resident colony of seals for as long as anyone can remember. After all, if you were a seal in Table Bay, fighting ocean currents and inclement weather conditions and somebody built a great big safe pond in your back yard to flop around in, what would you do? Not to mention that your favourite rocks were now covered with concrete and bollards. These days the local seal inhabitants cruise gracefully along the harbour waterways and then heave themselves rather comically onto a concrete platform near the Robben Island gateway, where they bask and bark in happy peace under the eyes of local and international visitors alike.

The best possible way to see these ocean creatures (assuming you don’t want to don a wet suit and dive into the seriously chilly Atlantic) is from the water by taking a leisurely Waterfront Harbour cruise. Our sturdy Southern Cross, with its double-decked viewing platforms, is the perfect harbour vessel. We offer half-hour tours of the V&A and the harbour areas, getting guests up close and personal with all the major attractions. The seals, of course, tickle everyone’s fancy, and have been a firm favourite attraction for the twenty-seven years we have been in operation.

We particularly enjoy the reaction of children to the seals: their delight is palpable and infectious, so we are offering a winter special for our half hour cruises. From now until the end of August, for every child’s ticket purchased, we will give away one for free. This promotion ends when the first 100 free vouchers are claimed. There is no limit on how many free vouchers you receive per matching, purchased items, so school groups or large families can join us for an adventure at a great saving. The only stipulation for larger groups is that there be an accompanying adult for every ten children – it is a boat after all, and we are safety conscious at all times.

See the relevant offer on our promotions page and book ahead: make sure that you avoid queues too. (A large group of boisterous, happy children are not going to want to stand in lines: we know that.)

  • The paid vouchers are valid for 1 year after the date purchased.
  • The free vouchers are valid for 3 months after the date purchased.