Several months ago, Marlie chose South Africa as her top choice of places to visit on our family trip around the world. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, this is a child who dreams of a life as a marine biologist, studying jellyfish and sea slugs. Seriously. She has talked about this dream unceasingly for as long as we can remember, and every choice reflects it, from visits to aquariums to watching every documentary she finds about life under the sea.
As we were wandering through Europe this spring or summer sometime, the girls were watching a documentary about Great White Sharks that feed around Seal Island in False Bay. The footage, burned into their minds, chilled the urge to swim there as much as the cold water. Needless to say, a trip to Seal Island was added on our “to see” list, sharks or not. We’ll just all stay in the boat.
As the winds pelted the shore for most of our two weeks in Simon’s Town, the tours were not running, even if we had wanted to ride out the seasickness from the huge waves, shiver in the spray, and squint though the wind. It was too hazardous. On our last day in town, finding the winds calm, we headed to the dock.
After a couple of delays to wait for the rain to abate, we left with ourselves, a couple from Johannesburg, and a charming young marine biologist guide from Canada. Marlie’s attention took a big leap at the degree title; every bit of her became acutely aware of each word, absorbing information she would spill back to us over the following days. Our guide was a specialist in whales, but her boyfriend studies Great Whites, and she shared a lot of information.
It seems the sharks only frequent the island in the winter as the calves start to take to the water, looking for an easy meal. This time of year, they hang out closed to the coast and beaches. Excellent. This means that we would not see any on the boat ride, but also gave the idea of swimming another chill.
The land and water surrounding Seal Island was full of the animals, from huge males to the tiny black pups. These are Cape Fur Seals. Marlie, of course, noted they were more closely related to sea lions rather than true seals, as their hind flippers turn forward under their bodies on land. As the boat took us to the far side of the island, the true realization of the presence of hundreds of poop producing mammals living confined in close proximity burned our noses and made our eyes water. Sort of a blend of manure and old fish.
As we headed back to shore, the sun broke through and a lunch on the outdoor balcony at the Meeting Place awaited us. We ate, satisfied that we had been able to visit the island after all, and looked around ourselves in wonder, relaxed and not hiding from the winds, and smelled an occasional lingering scent of seal poop waft from our clothes. Or maybe it was just our imagination…