Seal Island - Cape Town
Seal Island, also known as Duiker Island, is one of Cape Town’s most popular attractions, well loved by locals and foreigners alike.
You must have surely heard of the world famous flying white sharks, the ‘Air Jaws’? Well, those absolutely awe-inspiring videos were shot here!
It is a small, long rocky islet of 800 meters’ length and 50 meters’ width and no more than about 7 meters above the high tide mark, situated 5.7 km off the northern beaches of False Bay.
Boat trips and cruises are offered to observe the marine animals in their resplendent glory. The influx of visitors during the summer months (October to February) is only a simple illustration of the island’s appeal.
However, please note: it is illegal to actually go onto the island—this explains how it has preserved its spotless natural charm, as no man is allowed to walk on it!
In and Around Seal Island
As the name suggests, Seal Island is an island of seals. It inhabits a population of approximately 70 000 Cape fur seals.
Besides, some 24 different species of birds can be found on the island. Among them, there are some 200 kelp gulls and small groups of Cape and white-breasted cormorants. If you are lucky, you might spot a few Sub Antarctic skuas and jackass penguins.
Water temperature off Seal Island varies very little, between 13 and 14 degrees Celsius, throughout the year. The predominant winds are north westerly from March to September; they change to south easterly from October to February.
The shallow waters just surrounding the island are home to large shoals of southern mullet (a ray-finned fish) and red roman (the ‘golden-eyed broad head).
All year round, you can often spot dolphins, bryde’s whales and humpback whales.
From July to November, you are more likely to encounter the southern right whales as they tend to be plentiful during this period. Common and Dusky dolphins are often followed by large flocks of Cape gannets, the large white and black sea birds with their peculiar yellow heads.
Vegetation or usable soil is scarce, which explains why mostly marine animals inhabit the island. However, you can also find the ruins of a few huts, a radar mast and other structures as well as rock inscriptions of the 1900 – 1950s. These testify that humans were once present on this isolated island.
The Cape Fur Seal
The Cape fur seal, also known as the brown fur seal, is the largest and most robust fur seal. It is a species of the pinnipeds (fin-footed mammals).
Cape fur seals look much like giant snails from far. However, they have external ear flaps, foreflipppers covered with sparse hair, short hindflippers, and long whiskers. Males of the African subspecies have an average length of about 2.3 meters (7.5 ft) and can weigh from 200 to 300 kilograms (440 – 660 lbs), while the smaller females average to 1.8 meters (5.9 ft) and 120 kilograms (260 lbs).
Besides their difference in sizes, you can also single out the genders based on their respective colors. The adult males are dark gray to brown in color while the adult females are light brown to gray.
Seals are gregarious animals. They move in large groups to give birth and breed. The primary breeding season for the Cape Fur seal is November and December. Almost 20 000 pups are born every year.
The southern fur seals feed on moderately sized fish, squid and krill, and also sea birds, particularly penguins.
These sea mammals have an enticing ability to move on all fours and they can dive over 400 meters. Watching them walk and play might bring back sweet lively memories of your childhood!
The Cape fur seal is a protected animal since 1973 by the Sea Birds and Seal Protection Act: thereby, only the state has been allowed to kill seals at specific colonies.
The biggest predator of the Cape fur seal is the great white shark. Such a large group of seals certainly attracts those white sharks around Seal Island, which is how the ‘Air Jaws’, the famous videos of studies of the great white sharks attacks on seals, could be made.
Great White Sharks at Seal Island
The surrounding sea is one that boasts the legendary ‘with great beauty comes great danger’.
It might surely be tempting to bathe in, but the seemingly calm and dark turquoise blue waters are not one in which to wander. The main predator of the fur seal is known to be the most dangerous shark in the sea. Hence, Seal Island is the hunting ground of this monstrous feeder – The Great White Sharks.
Due to this predominant presence of seals and sharks, Seal Island is the only venue in the world that can offer a complete encounter with the dreary white shark, be it natural predation, breaching or cage diving. It is the place to be, if what you want is an as-lively-as-possible experience with the great white shark in its intimate environment.
Predation is an interaction between species in which one species (the white shark) uses another species (the seals) as food while breaching is one of the hunting techniques of the great white sharks. It propels itself right out of the water, exploding with energy, in an attempt to surprise its prey with a forceful attack. Cage diving, on the contrary, is about being underwater with the sharks, rather than watching them from aboard a sea vessel. You can dive into the water protected inside a cage and watch the great white sharks from very close.
The great white sharks are extremely active during the winter months, mostly from April to August while September lies between the high and intermediate season for breaching and predation of the sharks.
The centre of attraction of Seal Island is, indeed, the breathtaking predator-prey interaction between white sharks and Cape fur seals. As you watch in awe the sharks that literally fly hunting for their prey, you will soon conclude that they are indeed the Kings of the oceans.