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Where to Dive with Sea Lions and Seals

Table of Contents

Sea lions and seals are both amazing creatures that if you get a chance to should at least see them. If you are lucky enough to be able to get to a place and dive with them that is even better.

There are actually quite a few places to see and dive with Sea Lions and Seals. I will go over the places with the best opportunities to see these majestical creatures.

dual photo of a seal underwater on left and a sealion on land on right

What is the Difference Between Sea Lions and Seals?

They are both marine mammals but the biggest difference is that seals can’t walk on land and sea lions can. Sea lions have 4 flippers covered in skin with short claws that allow them to walk on land, while seals also have fur covered on their flippers and longer claws.

Another visible difference is that sea lions have ear flaps and seals just have holes in their heads. If you can’t tell them apart by looks you can always just listen, as sea lions are much louder and more vocal than seals.

Baja California, Mexico

Sea lion sunbathing

Species: California sea lions
Season: All year round, pups are around in September

While a lot of diving in Mexico is done on liveaboards in different areas. The West coast of North and South America has a lot of great places to see sea lions and seals. The Los Islotes in the Sea of Cortez is about an hour from La Paz and you will be able to see the California sea lions and the opportunity to see other creatures like turtles, whale sharks, and humpback whales.

You can swim and dive with the sea lions and you will see them usually on rocks. The sea lions are very playful and will probably interact with you while diving, though be careful they might bite your fins so try to keep your distance.

Monterey, California

Mating scene with California elephant seals

Species: Stellar sea lions, California sea lions, harbor seals, Northern Elephant Seals, Northern Fur Seals, Pacific Harbor seals
Season: May for seals and summer for sea lions

The rocks near the Breakwater Cove Marina are the best place to see these creatures and are better for scuba than snorkeling. As with most places to see seals and sea lions, the water is quite cold and you will need a thick wetsuit, or even a drysuit as the temperature of the water can get as lost as 50°F (10°C). Other sights to see would be the awesome sea otters (my personal favorite).

Kauai, Hawaii

Monk seal on the beach in Hawaii

Species: Monk Seals
Season: May to October is when the seas are the calmest

The monk seal is a lovable seal that lives on these islands in Northwestern Hawaii and is special to see as they are an endangered species. They believe that there are only about 1,600 left, with 1,200 living in Northwestern Hawaii and the rest scattered over the rest of the islands. Since they are protected the rules and regulations for interacting and diving with them will vary so make sure you are with a good dive operator and keep your distance from the Monk seals.

Farne Island, England

Atlantic grey seal baby in England

Species: Atlantic grey seals
Season: September to October

The Farne Islands in the chilly waters of England are home to thousands of grey seals and in the inter months also their pups. The Bristol Channel near Devon is a Marine Conservation Zone to protect these creatures. Again you will want a thick wetsuit or even a drysuit to stay warm. Other sights to see in the kelp beds are giant sea stars, cod, and diving guillemots. It is one of the most accessible sights to get to be able to dive with seals if you don’t mind the water temperature as it gets down to 45°F (8°C).

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Galapagos sea lion at the beach

Species: Galapagos fur seals, Galapagos sea lions
Season: All year round

While it is not the most accessible place and it will cost you a bit here is one of the best spots to see them in the world and on everyone’s list of places to dive. The islands are 600 miles (1000 km) off the Ecuadorian coast and only accessible by liveaboard. Both species are protected from touching by law even though they will approach you and may even give you a nibble. Besides the seals and lions, you can see massive shoals of fish, sea turtles, and sharks, in the nutrient-rich waters.

Hornby Island, Canada

Steller sea lion on a rock in hornby canada

Species: Harbor seals, Steller sea lions, California sea lions
Season: December to March

In the cold winters off Hornby Island in British Columbia Canada, you can dive with the massive Steller sea lions (10 feet/ 3 meters long over 2,5000lbs), and sometime they will even gather to over a hundred. They are huge but not dangerous be careful. The white sand beaches are great for shore diving but with the water temperatures getting down to 50°F (10°C) a 7mm or drysuit would be recommended for extended periods in the water.

Ross Sea, Antarctica

leopard seal in the snow in Antartica

Species: Leopard Seal
Season: All year round

Leopard seals are found in Antarctica and are one of the most spectacular seal species in the world. The Leopard seal is highly intelligent and loves to interact with humans. Watching these seals it may seem like they are playing with the penguins and they are before they eat them. It is interesting but can be painful to watch. These creatures sometimes will even bring you the dead creature as a gift. This is an expensive trip to get there and there are not a lot of dive operators. The waters are also 28 to 50°F (-2 to 10 °C) so you will need a drysuit.

Western Cape Hout Bay/ False Bay, South Africa

cape fur seal on the ice in south africa

Species: Cape fur seals
Season: Year-round, but the best months are from September to May

The cape fur seals live in these bays and are protected by the surrounding areas. Since there are tens of thousands of these seals there are also a lot of broad-nose seven-gill sharks that will feast upon them. The kelp forests and beds are around that they use to evade their predators. False Bay in the Western Cape is also frequented by whales, sharks, dolphins, and as well as orcas so there is something for all to see. The water temperature is 46 50°F (8 to 10°C). These locations are not always great for diving but when the weather is not favorable for diving in Hout Bay it will be better in False Bay and the other way around.

Kaikoura, New Zealand

New Zealand fur seal posing for the camera

Species: New Zealand fur seals
Season: October to May

Kaikoura in New Zealand is a stunning place year round and is not that frequented by travelers so it is a great place to go see the fur sea. Kaikoura has kelp forests that you can dive in and see all sorts of diverse marine life and the continental shelf next to it has made it a hotbed for whales, dolphins, sharks, and teaming fish as well. You can dive there or even snorkel. The temperature of the water ranges throughout the year from 50 to 63°F (10 to 18°C) so again a drysuit or a thick wetsuit would be highly recommended.

Montague/ Jervis Bay Australia

dense group of Australian fur seals at Jervis Bay

Species: Australian fur seals, New Zealand fur seals
Season: September to October

In Montague, in New South Wales Australia you have the opportunity to have sunny weather and two types of seals. You can swim, dive and snorkel with these seals and check out some penguins as well. If you go North to Jervis Bay you can dive with the fur seas and if you are lucky possibly a humpback whale. If you get a chance try to hop over to the Great Barrier reef though you won’t see seals there the other 1,500 types of fish should suffice. The water temps in Jervis Bay range from 60 to 77°F (16 to 25°C).

Cornwall, The United Kingdom

snorkeler swimming with common grey seal
Photo Shot by Mark Tilley @mr_tilford on IG

Species:  Grey seal, Common seal aka the Harbor seal
Season: Year Around

This is all first-hand experience from a master scuba and freedive instructor Charly Stringer who now resides in the UK and dives there often. Being a fair-weather diver I considered anything under 68F (20C) degrees undiveable. And had an image in my head that UK diving was murky and barren. But I met two friends in Cornwall who offered to take me on my first-ever U.K. dive. We went to a beach in Newquay, got me bundled up in a 5mm thick wetsuit and attached all the weight I needed.
 
We then walked along the headland, then they told me to jump with all my gear about 10ft (3m) off the rocks into the water which seemed scary. I wasn’t backing out. I jumped, hit the water, looked down, and immediately saw forests of kelp, crabs, fish, and a seal!
 
The visibility was good, I wasn’t cold, and the longer we stayed, the more curious seals came over to check us out. One, in particular, was very interested in us, she had a nasty scar on her neck so we guessed maybe she had been taken in for treatment at some point and then released back to the wild, this would explain how much less cautious she was with us than the others. She would nibble on our fins, pose for the cameras, and swim around us like she was one of the gang. It was so much fun.
 
 
Welcome to our blog!
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I am a PADI Divemaster based in South Florida. With nearly 10 years of diving experience, I have accumulated the knowledge to help readers become better divers, buy their next piece of gear, and plan their dream dive vacation! Please contact me if you have any questions.

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