My Swim with the Fur Seals at Semaphore South

July 31, 2018 | Posted in: Coastal activities, Kayaking, Marine mammals, Pinnipeds

Following my sighting of a pair of NZ fur seals whilst I was kayaking at Goolwa South Lakes recently, and an email received from Simon Vickers about them occurring at the Semaphore South breakwater, I wanted to view them for myself.

The windy weather was a bit concerning on the day, so I drove along the Esplanade to see what the sea conditions were like. “Not too bad,” I thought to myself, “Just a little rough at the shore, that’s all.”

I quickly launched my kayak from the beach (a little bit too quickly). I headed for the northern end of the breakwater to start my search along the inside of it for the seals.

There were many cormorants on the rocks at the northern end of the breakwater and I took a couple of photos of them (with my camera in its underwater housing). I then put the camera on my lap to be able to continue paddling my kayak.

The next thing that I knew was that my camera fell over the side of my kayak and into the water. My eyes followed the camera and saw it start to sink rapidly. I reached out for it and just got a finger tip on the lanyard attached to the housing.

My relief turned to horror when my kayak flipped over and I fell into the water. Fortunately, I was still hanging on to my camera, but my paddle had broken its tether. I clung to my paddle and camera and assessed the situation. I hadn’t intended swimming amongst the fur seals at all.

My kayak was upside down and my water bottle was drifting away. I clung to my upturned kayak and retrieved my water bottle. Should I now attempt to reboard my kayak? My beanie was seen drifting towards the nearby breakwater. I decided to swim my kayak over towards my beanie and the breakwater.

I slapped the beanie on my head and scrambled onto a big rock at the breakwater. I re-assembled my kayak and reboarded it. I then paddled along the inside of the breakwater towards the southern end. I could see some fur seals there. They were in the water and out on the rocks.

I took a few photos of the seals as they swam about me or posed up on the rocks. There seemed to be at least nine seals there at the time. The wind had picked up by this time (as can be seen in the photos) and I decided to head quickly back to shore.

I found this interpretive signage close to my car: –

After changing my clothes and packing my gear in the car, I suddenly realised that I didn’t know where my glasses were. Perhaps they are in the car somewhere? Or did I lose them out at the breakwater when I fell in the water? I couldn’t see any glasses around the outside of my car at all. I grabbed a spare pair of glasses from my glovebox. I should’ve worn those out on the kayak instead.

I decided that I would check through my car properly when I got home. They weren’t found back at home, so I can only assume that I lost them in the water. I had saved my camera but lost my glasses, it seems. My only thought now is to return during better weather to search underwater for them.

My landlord lives on the Esplanade at Largs Bay, and he says that he often paddles down to the Semaphore South breakwater to see the fur seals there. He says that he has seen as many as 15 there at one time.

(All photos by Steve Reynolds)

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve is a keen diver, underwater explorer, photographer and is chief author of the Society's extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

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