I’ve been lucky enough to go whale watching in Canada, shark cage diving in South Africa and kayaking next to crocs and hippos in Zambia – but who would have thought you could spot seals right off the coast of Portsmouth here in the UK?
Actually, I’ve known there are Harbour Seals around Portsea Island for a while now but it’s just one of those things; until you spot them with your own eyes, you’re not fully convinced. Apparently the UK is home to 5% of the world’s population of Harbour Seals (also known as Common Seals).
So when I saw that the Andrew Simpson Watersports Centre (formerly known as Portsmouth Watersports Centre) was offering photography trips out into Langstone Harbour, I jumped at the chance.
Upon arrival at the centre, we were shown to a wetsuit room to get kitted up with suits and life jackets. After a short briefing on what we were going to be doing and what we could expect to see, we were let loose on the canoes. Our instructor decided that, given the light wind, it’d be better to rope two canoes together to make a raft – so that was our first task as a team.
After a steady paddle out into the harbour, getting to know our fellow raft mates, we were soon turning off into a creek to see our first seals. And there they were – six of the beauties basking in the glorious sunshine – including a grumpy looking bull and an adorable pup. We were careful not to paddle too close so as not to disturb them, but we were able to get some incredible photographs. We also had plenty of time to peacefully watch them lolling around and slipping into the water for a refreshing dip. Our guide explained that the seals eat a diet of fish and crustaceans, and that the muddy sandbanks are perfect for them to rest on in between fishing (a practice known as ‘hauling out’).
We paddled on up the creek and back to see them again, then out to the wider harbour area going south to join stand-up paddle boarders, kayakers and dinghy sailors enjoying the water.
Andrew Simpson Watersports Centre offers plenty of events and activities throughout the year to get folk on the water. Alternatively you can hire a kayak or stand-up paddle board and see the seals at your own pace.