Where can you Swim with Sea Lions & Seals?

If you want an interactive wildlife experience, go for a swim with seals or sea lions. Forget dolphins and whales, sea lions in particular, are super curious and up for a play even if you are a lumbering human with a snorkel in your mouth.

I have swum with seals and sea lions in three locations around Australia and have never failed to come face to facemask with these adorable puppies of the sea.

Below is a guide of the best places to swim with seals and sealions in Australia and what you can expect on these tours. We also answer a few seal and sea lion swim FAQs

Disclosure: Please Note That Some Links In This Post May Be Affiliate Links, And At No Additional Cost To You, We Earn A Small Commission If You Make A Purchase. Commissions Go Toward Maintaining The Snorkel Spots Website.

Australian Sea Lion
Australian Sea Lion

Do you have to be a good swimmer?

You will enjoy the experience more if you are a competent swimmer. It also helps if you are water confident. You should be able to float/tread water and swim a short distance.

You might have to contend with waves and current depending on the location and conditions.

Sea lions are likely to be more engaged with you if you are moving around. But just as important is having the confidence to stay relaxed and calm in the water – especially if a seal or seal lion wants to gaze into your mask – which does happen!

Some operators offer flotation aids for extra buoyancy.

Is swimming with seals and sea lions safe?

So long as you follow the rules, swimming with seals and sea lions is safe. There is no touching, don’t block their path and, as it was put on a sea lion tour we went on, ‘don’t get them overstimulated’ by waving a camera in their face.

We had a sea lion tug on one of our fins once, but these are generally non-aggressive animals if treated with respect.

What equipment do you need?

Tour providers will have wetsuits and snorkelling gear which you can use, we still use our own face mask and snorkels.

Check if you can use your own fins. Some will let you, others won’t and on one tour we went on we couldn’t wear fins at all.

Also take a camera – you are highly likely to have a close encounter. You can hire a GoPro from some operators.

While most seal and sea lion tours are close to shore, they, will go out in bumpy conditions so take the necessary precautions if you get seasick.

Australian Fur Seal
Australian Fur Seal

What Seals & Sea Lions do you Swim With in Australia?

You will be swimming with Australian sea lions, Australian fur seals and New Zealand Fur Seals.

Differences between Seals & Sea Lions?

The best way to tell the difference between seals and sea lions is their ears and front flippers. Sea lions have a small ear while seals have an ear hole. Sea lions also have bigger front flippers than seals.

Check out our comprehensive list differences between seals and sea lions.

Where to Swim with Seals & Sea Lions in Australia

Australian Sea Lion
Australian Sea Lion

Jurien Bay – 220km North of Perth

A group of tiny islands off the coast of Jurien Bay is home to the endangered Australian sea lion. While it took the sea lions a few minutes to notice we were sitting there off Essex Island, once they spotted us and came over it was a blast!

The water was 2-4m deep, so we got a great look at them relaxing upside down on the bottom, swimming rings around us and leaping out of the water. We had several nose to facemask encounters which was really thrilling and once bouncy pup leaped out of the water and landed on top of us – no harm done and very funny.

The clear shallow water and short boat ride to the sea lion colony (15 minutes tops) makes this a great place to swim with sea lions if you have never tried it before. Read our Jurien Bay Snorkel Spot guide here.

Penguin Island – 54km South of Perth

This is the first of a couple of locations just 45 minutes south of Perth where you can swim with Australian sea lions. Based in the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, tours run to Penguin Island where guides get you snorkelling with the local Australian sea lion colony.

You won’t just experience the sea lions, you’ll also get the chance to snorkel on reefs, maybe see some dolphins and you’ll meet some of the many birds that call Penguin Island home. It is fantastic all round nature experience.

Carnac Island – 66km South of Perth

One more sea lion swimming spot in Western Australia is Carnac Island, cruises there depart from Fremantle. Ignore the stories about the island’s tiger snake population, your focus here is the water which is home to Australian sea lions.

While this isn’t a dedicated sea lion tour like you get from Jurien Bay, you are still a good chance of a sea lion encounter plus you could spot dolphins and it is a great snorkelling spot. Worth checking out if you are based near Perth.

Australian Sea Lion
Australian Sea Lion

Baird Bay – 700km from Adelaide

South Australia has its own colonies of Australian sea lions and one of the best places to swim with them is Baird Bay near Streaky Bay on Eyre Peninsula. This remote location on South Australia’s west coast is a pristine environment where the wild sea lions happily engage with visitors.

We have swum with the sea lions here and had a great time. The boat moors just off Jones Island in only a couple of metres of water and there is plenty of room to spread out and meet the sea lions. Our 7 and 9 year olds did this with us and had no problems seeing the sea lions.

There is also a local pod of dolphins in the area. If they are around, you might get to have a snorkel with them too.

Port Lincoln650km from Adelaide

While better known for its great white shark cage dives, you can also swim with sea lions. Don’t be put off by the toothier tours Port Lincoln is better known for. Sea lion swims happen in entirely different locations.

Despite being our home state, swimming with the sea lions here is still on our to do list – and we can’t wait to tick it off. Run in 1.5 – 2.5m of water near an island with a sandy bottom, it sounds very similar to the landscape at both Baird Bay and Jurien Bay. So, if you get to this beautiful part of South Australia, put this sea lion swim on your list of activities.

Australian Fur Seal
Australian Fur Seal

Chinaman’s Hat – 104km South of Melbourne

Chainman’s Hat is a wooden rotunda out in Port Philip Bay, and it is a gathering point – or haul out spot – for Australian fur seals. We have done the seal swim here and it is a lot of fun.

The water is a bit deeper and more exposed than you get with the sea lion swims mentioned above. We’d rate it slightly less suitable for weaker swimmers.

There is no shortage of seals here and once people arrive, they drop into the water to have a look around. The pups were very playful. As everyone finished up their swim they started leaping out of the water as if they were trying to lure us back in.

If there are dolphins around, you might also have the chance to get in the water on a rope line to see them swimming. Also look out for the huge smooth rays that hang around the rotunda. Read pour Chinaman’s Hat Snorkel Spot guide here.

Montague Island – Narooma 355km South of Sydney

We stayed in Narooma for a week trying to get out to the seal colony on Montague Island but couldn’t get a break in the weather, so this swim is still on our to do list.

If you have more luck than us, you are in for a treat. There are hundreds of seals around the island so it is not a question of if you will see them. Montague Island Marine Reserve is only 10 minutes by boat from Narooma Wharf.

One of the big reasons we tried to do this was not only are there playful seals everywhere, but the island is also home to an array of other creatures which you might spot as you look around. There are also tours that get you up onto the island if you want to look around and check out the birdlife.

If you can’t get to Montague Island, try the more sheltered Mill Bay Boardwalk. Seals can often be seen at either end of the boardwalk. We snorkelled with one at the start of our swim.

Steve Klein
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