Seals and sea lions are known as the puppies of the sea. They are playful, oh-so-cute and diving or snorkeling with them is one of the most thrilling underwater experiences of all. Seal and sea lion populations exist all over the world, and there are multiple different species – many of which are intrigued by people in the water. Whether you like diving in tropical waters or prefer to don a dry suit, there’s an encounter waiting for you. Here are our top recommendations for the best places to dive with seals and sea lions.
BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO
Los Islotes is located around 45 minutes from La Paz in Baja California Sur, and it’s home to a colony of California sea lions. Despite having the chance to see whale sharks, sea turtles, humpback whales and grey whales in the area, it’s always the sea lions that steal the show with their playful antics. The sea lions are spotted most frequently lazing on the rocky outcroppings, but during the late summer and autumn, the tranquil, warm waters are teeming with young pups that are extremely jovial and interactive with visitors. While the sea lions can get extremely close to snorkelers or divers, even nipping their fins, these excursions are safe and suitable for all ages and abilities.
The monk seal is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and it’s an extremely special species to see. Monk seals are an endangered species, and it’s thought that only around 1,100 individual monk seals remain in existence. The best time to visit is from May through to October when sea conditions are at their best. Keep in mind that monk seals are a protected species in Hawaii, so there are special regulations put in place to protect the seals.
FARNE ISLANDS, UNITED KINGDOM
If you don’t mind braving the chilling waters of the UK, the Farne Islands provide a home to thousands of grey seals and, in the winter months, their pups. Once you’ve donned your dry suit, you’ll also find that the Farne Islands are home to giant sea stars, kelp beds, cod and diving guillemots. Of course, though, the highlight of the show is always the playful seals!
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR
Sea lions are found in the Galapagos Islands all year round. The islands, which are 600 miles off the Ecuador coast, are home to both fur seals and Galapagos sea lions — both of which are protected from touching by law.
The sea lions spend the majority of their time hanging out on the shore, but when they are ready for a swim, playtime begins. These sneaky sea lions have even been known to steal dive accessories from divers at the best dive sites around the island!
HORNBY ISLAND, CANADA
Every winter off Hornby Island, British Columbia, divers gather to dive with Steller sea lions. It’s not unusual to find over 100 individuals, and it’s quite a sight to see these huge sea lions zooming through the water. Stellar sea lions grow to an impressive 3 meters long (10 feet), and they can reach speeds of up to 30 knots. Despite their size and speed, these sea lions are not dangerous, however, they can be extremely cheeky so you’ll want to keep a tight hold over your gear!
KAIKOURA, NEW ZEALAND
Although New Zealand is home to the Hooker Sealion, the New Zealand Fur Seal is one of the most curious seal species on the planet. Seals frequent Kaikoura and the best place to dive with Hooker Sea Lions is Dunedin. Organized diving and snorkeling tours (small groups) enable you to get up close and personal with these lovable creatures. Tours are available from October to May.
ROSS SEA, ANTARCTICA
The leopard seals that are found in Antartica are one of the most impressive seal species. These apex predators are highly intelligent and fascinated by humans. They often play with their food, usually penguins. Don’t be shocked if they offer their prize to the snorkelers. Nevertheless, watching these seals play amid glaciers and icebergs is a memory that stays with you for life.
FALSE BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
Cape fur seals shelter by the thousands in False Bay, South Africa. The sheer number of seals here also makes it a feeding ground for broadnose sevengill sharks. When it comes to navigating the dense kelp forests, the cape fur seals are real masters and frequently outwit their hunters. If you are visiting, you can expect to see up to 50 seals at one time, and if you plan to get into the water, you’ll want a 7mm wetsuit.
Are you ready to book a seal or sea lion diving adventure? Check out PADI Travel to decide on your next destination!