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Published March 6th 2015
It's play time for these puppies of the sea
Sealions are gorgeous friendly sea mammals that possess a sense of fun and adventure, want to play, are eager to please and have an overwhelming desire to get in front of any camera that is currently operating. When in Port Lincoln recently, an opportunity arose to have a Swim with the Sealions, and I couldn't resist.
Departing from the Marina Hotel at Lincoln Cove at 130pm on a warm day, the Calypso Star left for our half day adventure with 20 eager swimmers and observers on board, and supported by the four crew members. The boat trip to Seal Cove on Hopkins Island took us across Boston Bay, before heading south around Cape Donington and following the coastline to McLaren Point before veering out in to the deeper waters en-route to Hopkins Island.
About 15 minutes out from the destination, and it was time to don the wetsuits and get the final instructions as to how to have the maximum amount of fun. Watching 20 people on a boat put a wetsuit on was a comedic event in its own right, but eventually we all got there.
Upon arrival near Seal Cove at Hopkins Island, the boat anchored about 150m from shore within viewing distance of a pod of sealions who slowly stirred to yet another bunch of tourists coming to swim with them.
The small dinghy was lowered, and we were transported in groups of four in to a small bay with a depth of around 3 feet, and given strict instructions that we were to go no closer to the beach than this depth as the beach was a protected environmental area that was off limits to humans.
All that being understood, on went the mask and snorkel, and in to the water we went, with over half of us having Go-Pro cameras or equivalents. Within 20 seconds of being in the water, a few more sealions moved along the beach towards the water's edge, and then suddenly a couple of pups appeared alongside us for a play in the water.
With somersaults, back flips and swirls they glided effortlessly past us, looking for us to respond with energetic and acrobatic movements ourselves which would only encourage the pups to become even more playful.
Slowly but surely the number of sealions in the water around us swells to around 20, as our group eventually all makes it in to the water to join in the fun. 20 humans, behaving like acrobats (or clowns) in the water, would surely have been some sight from a distance, but as we all had the common goal of having fun with the sealions, criticism of each other's antics was spared. Over, under and around the sealions seemed to be having great fun in the water with us, and seemed to have us under their spell.
The sealions, being a bit more seaworthy (and smarter) than us humans all managed to get in to the deeper waters beyond us and the Island, and were ever so slowly (and subtlety) encouraging to swim and play closer to them. A loud bark from one of our crew on board the dinghy reminded us that we needed to return back closer to the shore, and that we shouldn't worry about losing the sealions as they will follow us. And sure enough they did, and the play continued.
It was fairly obvious that it was the young pups who were most playful, with perhaps some of the mother sealions remaining on the beach. At one particular point I was watching two pups playing underwater, when suddenly they stopped playing and floated to the bottom. I thought that they were perhaps "playing dead", until I saw a large male sealion (bull) come floating past, obviously keeping an eye on the young ones to make sure that they weren't up to too much mischief.
The sealions obviously had greater lung capacity than us humans and they would often stay underwater for great lengths of time alternating their behaviour between resting / watching and being boisterous and playful with movements that would put many synchronised swimming teams to shame.
Our location in this bay on Hopkins Island was near some large rocks, so I took the opportunity to swim (was actually looking for a rest stop) over to these rocks. While there, it became apparent that I wasn't alone as several large schools of small fish came passing though, while a number of larger multi-coloured fish even made an appearance. The coral and plantlife on and around the rocks was also plentiful and beautiful to look at in the afternoon sun.
After almost 90 minutes in the water, we were tiring, and the sealions were giving up on us. It looked as though they had again worn out another bunch of tourists, and they would now return to their Cove for a rest before tomorrow's visitors arrived.
For us it was back on board the dinghy for the trip back to the big boat, a hot shower and a late afternoon tea of cheese, crackers, fruit and nuts. Tea and coffee was also freely available, and the bar was also open for the return trip to Port Lincoln providing very modestly priced beer, cider or soft drinks.
Calypso Star Charters runs the Swim with the Sealions tour most days between September and May, with bookings recommended. The tour leaves the Lincoln Cove Marina and costs $150 for adults with lesser prices for kids, families and observers. The price includes the wetsuit, mask and goggles, as well as complimentary light food and tea / coffee. Further details are available from their website or their facebook page.
The crew also have a number of Go-Pro cameras which are available for hire before boarding the boat. These cameras provide a opportunity to capture some videos and to show it to your friends and family who weren't able to be there with you, as I have done in the below 50 second video - enjoy.