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Semaphore's Breakwater Wildlife

Home > Adelaide > Photography | Beaches | Animals and Wildlife
by Barry Silkstone (subscribe)
I am an Australian natural history writer and photographer. My aim is to encourage people to venture outdoors and enjoy the natural beauty of our planet. Visit my blog naturallysouthaustralia.com
Published February 28th 2021
Semaphore and Seals
We are swimming lazily along the inside of the breakwater, when I notice a dark fin break the surface about twenty metres away. I nudge my buddy and point. It takes a few seconds for me to realise that it is a seal flipper as the animal rolls on the surface preparing to dive. We approach cautiously and recognise our new companion; an Australian Long-nosed Fur Seal.

Long -nosed Fur Seal


The seal hauls up onto the breakwater and starts to groom its fur. I swim in close to the rocks but it ignores me. I call out and the seal turns to face me as if posing for a portrait, then continues with its cleaning routine.

South Australian wildlife, South Australian tourism, Wildlife photography Wildlife stories, nature, marine life, Semaphore, breakwater
Breakwater from the shore


The breakwater is situated about 200 metres offshore at the southern end of Semaphore beach. We are swimming out to the rocks on a calm day with an incoming tide and for most of the distance, the water is shallow enough to stand up. However, when the wind and tides are stronger, there are currents around the breakwater and swimming out there would not be advisable. When snorkelling, it is important to have a buddy and preferable to have a wet suit as this works as a flotation device when the weight belt is dropped.

South Australian wildlife, South Australian tourism, Wildlife photography Wildlife stories, nature, marine life, Semaphore
Sealion acrobatics


A quick seal/sealion note. Fur seals and sealions belong to a group known as eared seals or Otariids. They have external ear flaps and use their front flippers like legs moving upright on land, unlike true seals which drag themselves along and do not have visible ear flaps.

South Australian wildlife, South Australian tourism, Wildlife photography Wildlife stories, nature, marine life, Semaphore
Seal playing with us


Leaving our playful mate behind, we decide to swim back along the inside of the rocks looking for other kinds of marine life. After a few minutes of scanning the bottom, I notice a small school of Bream weaving amongst the rocks below us. Swimming down towards them would probably spook the fish, so I take a couple of shots from the surface.

South Australian wildlife, South Australian tourism, Wildlife photography Wildlife stories, nature, marine life, Semaphore, bream
Bream on the rocky bottom


Numerous schools of juvenile Sea Sweep, Tasmanian Trumpeters and an occasional solitary Old Wife are sheltering between boulders in caves and crevices. Eventually, as the breakwater ecosystem ages, these schools will be made up of mature fish like those found on the Port Noarlunga Reef.

South Australian wildlife, South Australian tourism, Wildlife photography Wildlife stories, nature, marine life, Semaphore, smooth toadfish
Smooth Toadfish


I take one more dive to the bottom and peer amongst the rocks for crabs, sponges and the small shrimp and sea slugs that live on the rocks. There are a few organisms but they are too small to photograph with my limited equipment. Just as I am ready to surface, I notice a single Smooth Toadfish half-hidden under a crevice. As I approach the fish slowly leaves its sanctuary and I fire of a couple of frames.

South Australian wildlife, South Australian tourism, Wildlife photography Wildlife stories, nature, marine life, Semaphore
Typical underwater view of breakwater environment


It is an easy swim back to the beach with the incoming tide and there is quite a lot of activity on the rippled, sandy bottom. Fairly large Sand Crabs are in abundance. They scuttle across the bottom, threatening with their claws when approached then burying themselves backwards into the sand as a final defence.

South Australian wildlife, South Australian tourism, Wildlife photography Wildlife stories, nature, marine life, Semaphore, Sand Crab
South Australian wildlife, South Australian tourism, Wildlife photography Wildlife stories, nature, marine life, Semaphore, Sand Crab


Our mini-snorkelling adventure is over and we are determined to return on another day to explore the outside of the breakwater. For now, a snack and a cool drink at Noonies Beachside Café, at the edge of the car park, is a fitting end to a brilliant morning at Semaphore South.

Additional notes

  • All images were taken using Panasonic f2 camera.

  • Snorkel with a buddy and be watchful of tidal and current conditions. Wear a wet suit for added protection.

  • Onshore there are shelters, toilets, lawn areas and a nearby cafe as well as parking, barbecues and a children's playground
  • Help us improve  Click here if you liked this article  90
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    Why? An easy underwater adventure
    When: All year round
    Where: Semaphore
    Cost: None
    Your Comment
    Great article and photos Barry. Subjects I will never see, being a non swimmer.
    by Neil Follett (score: 3|2133) 48 days ago
    It may be just how the article is written, but it does sound as if you ignored the required distances when being around marine mammals. 30 metres for swimmers and those on land.
    by Jacq (score: 0|2) 42 days ago
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