Swimming with seals an exhilarating gig

20:44, Jan 11 2012
Swimming lessons: Smaller seals can be extremely playful as they dive among the swimmers off the Kaikoura coastline.

In our summer series, Ian Allen dances underwater in Kaikoura.

When I told people I was going swimming with seals, their first reaction was one of confusion before replying "don't you mean dolphins?"

After assuring my ignorant friends I had indeed planned to go snorkelling with some of New Zealand's fur seals off the coast of Kaikoura, they soon started coming round to the idea.

I had favoured seals over dolphins as someone told me, in passing, that they were more playful.

Having never swam with dolphins I can't say whether this is true, but I can confirm seals are extremely inquisitive. In fact, perhaps a little too inquisitive.

I headed to Kaikoura just before Christmas to meet up with the Seal Swim Kaikoura team for an hour of frolicking in the ocean.


Upon arrival I was quickly suited and booted [and hooded and gloved, she's pretty cold] and ready to take the plunge.

We were shipped out, me and five other eager tourists, to Barney's Rock to get up close and personal with the furry variety.

Normally the guides can choose from a number of locations along the coast but because of the swell we headed for the relative calm around the ragged island, which just happens to be a breeding colony.

Luckily the males, which are pretty big when swimming within touching distance, didn't see me as a threat. These huge marine animals are fairly docile in the water and swim slowly along the edge of the rock.

The real excitement starts, though, when some of the smaller, more streamlined seals decide its playtime.

They dart among the group, sometimes coming within inches before making a last second swerve. We were told to imitate the seals, so starting diving below the surface too.

At times it feels like you're doing some sort of underwater Charleston, just you and the seal with its big, black eye staring you in the face.

I'm not normally moved by wildlife encounters, but here you feel a real affinity with the seals while playing in their natural habitat.

It was a special moment until we headed back to shore where the next group of eager swimmers were waiting and I realised my new friend would soon have another dance partner. Seals, they're all the bloody same.

The Marlborough Express