Africa Safari Story: Cape Fur Seals

From Walvis Bay, we drove up to the Skeleton Coast, which, technically, is the Namibian coast between the Kunene River and the Swakop River.

What are the skeletons on the coast, you wonder.

Shipwreck on the Skeleton Coast

A skeleton on the coast.

They’re wrecked ships. The name “Skeleton Coast” originated as the title for John Henry Marsh’s book about a shipwreck, and it was so apt, it stuck. Before the advent of modern navigation equipment, this coast, with its extreme wind and fog, was treacherous.

But it wasn’t the shipwrecks we were out to see. Nor was it the shore fisherfolks, though there were plenty of those, too. We were out to see Cape fur seals.

Fur seals at Cape Cross

Look at them all! Cape Cross Seal Reserve. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

The Namibian coast is home to many fur seal colonies, and we visited one of the largest at the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. One source says there might be 80,000–100,000 animals here during the peak season. We heard and smelled them all. Pyooo!

We saw a good many, too.

Cape Cross fur seals in the water

There are as many fur seals in the water as on the beach.

Pups are born in November and December, so we got to see them while they were still young, dark colored, and nursing, if they were able to find their mothers. Once they start going to sea to eat, I’m not sure reconnecting with Mom is guaranteed.

Cape Cross fur seals on the beach

So many cape fur seals!

Imagine trying to locate your mother in this mob.

Cape Cross fur seal pup calling

Mo-om! Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Young ones bleat. Old ones bark and rumble in response. Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise!

Fur Seals are Sea Lions, Cape Cross Seal Reserve

External ears + walking flippers = sea lion, not seal

Now, let’s get something straight. See those ears? Those walking flippers? These are seals only in name; in fact, they’re sea lions.

Cape Cross fur seal nursing

Nursing fur seal pup.

Lucky pups reconnect with Mom, but not every pup is lucky. We saw and smelled several dead ones on the beach, and this was well after the most vulnerable period for pups.

Fur seals lying around rundown picnic area

Fur seals take over the picnic area.

The seal reserve has a boardwalk that allows human visitors to walk through a small area of the colony. The animals are habituated and mostly don’t seem to mind the intrusion. They surround the boardwalk, though, and will bark if a visitor walks too near when going from the parking lot to the boardwalk.

The sea lions have taken over the picnic area, and they’ve even moved onto one end of the boardwalk, rendering it closed to humans.

Shaking Hands with a Cape Cross fur seal

Pleased to meet you. This hand is soft like a beaver’s hand. What? You’ve not shaken a beaver’s hand? Why not? Note all the fur on the boardwalk and sand.

Once on the boardwalk, we’re deemed okay, even as we walk overhead, kneel down beside them, shake hands, and exit near their usurped part of the boardwalk.

Cape Cross fur seal


Humans. So what?

Well, actually, this isn’t always true. Annually, beginning in July, young sea lions here at the Cape Cross Seal Reserve are killed for an overseas fur market. It’s a grim business, and, of course, it’s a source of controversy, which I will not address here.

Cape Cross fur seal lounging on rock

Rocks as lounge chairs.

The beach provides myriad comforts.

Cape Cross fur seal sleeping on a rock

Rocks as pillows.

A welcome respite from the rolling sea.

Cape Cross fur seal snoozing pair

Stuck between a rock and a soft friend.

Cape Cross fur seal mom and pup nuzzle

Awwww. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

We spent a good long time with the sea lions and came away with not just photos, memories, and ideas, but also the smell. A couple of hours amongst the adorable, stinky things and our clothes reeked!

Categories: Africa, Africa, Travel