Sea Lions (Cape Fur Seals)

Although known locally as "Cape fur seals," the marine animals that populate the coastal regions of Namibia and South Africa are actually "sea lions," because they have both external ears and rear legs that allow them to move around on land quite readily (if somewhat comically). In deference to the local custom, however, they will be referred to here as "Cape fur seals" or just "seals."

While in Namibia and South Africa, I encountered seals in several different locations: off South Africa's Cape Peninsula (near Hout Bay), in the area around "shark alley" off Gansbaai, South Africa, and in two giant colonies along Namibia's Skeleton Coast. The Namibia colonies, being on land, both allowed visitors a close-up look. At Cape Cross, we visited a breeding colony that contained thousands of female seals and babies. No adult males were in sight. The mother seals periodically left their babies to hunt for food in the sea. When they returned, they let out a bellow to call to their pups and the youngsters squawked in return. Multiply this "call and response" by several thousand seals and you can imagine the cacophony.

Further north along the Skeleton Coast, at Cape Frio, was another large seal colony, but this was not a breeding colony. Newborn pups were nowhere to found, and large and domineering males roamed the beach and kept their "harems" in line. As we approached this colony, the seals noticed us and many made a mad dash for the safety of the water. Only when they had reached the water's edge did they feel comfortable enough to let curiosity take over and examine the intruders.

One other point about seals: there are few things on this planet that smell worse than a large seal colony. It is a piercing, acrid odor the like of which words cannot begin to convey. It is a stench that quickly brings some people to the brink of nausea. In short, while seals are fascinating to watch, they are best appreciated from upwind (and don't plan to bring a picnic lunch for a afternoon at the seal colony).