Published on : Friday, March 15, 2019
Phillip Island’s ever-changing coastline forms the perfect backdrop for a surprisingly intimate and up-close wildlife adventure on Phillip Island Nature Parks’ Wild Oceans EcoBoat as it speeds across the surface of the water on its daily 90 minute Adventure Tour.
Starting in the sheltered waters of Western Port, the beaches of Cowes and Ventnor slide by as you make your way towards Seal Rocks, home of the world’s largest colony of Australian fur seals.
As you approach the western tip of Phillip Island the volcanic origins of the stunning coastline become clear and the cliffs rise higher and the Nobbies rock formation looms ahead of you. The calm waters of the bay give way to the increasing swells driven in relentlessly by the Southern Ocean. The children and even some of the adults let out little squeals of excitement and joy as your captain skillfully and playfully navigate the rigid-hulled inflatable EcoBoat around and over the waves.
Twenty minutes after departing Cowes jetty you arrive at Seal Rocks, an important breeding area and nursery for around 25,000 Australian fur seals. On any given day, you can expect to see up to about 8,000 seals on the two rocky islands that make up Seal Rocks.
The EcoBoat slips into a protected inlet between two rocky plateaus, and you find yourself confronted with the unmistakable sights, sounds and smells of a seal colony. The naturally curious and playful seals immediately surround the boat and duck their heads in and out of the water, perhaps as interested in you as you are in them. Their antics look like a cross between leap-frog and hide and seek.
You manage to tear your gaze away from the seals for just a moment and you notice that everyone onboard has a grin from ear to ear and you realise that you must look exactly the same as everyone else, sharing this special moment of being in the midst of a wild seal colony, in their home.
This amazing experience is immediately brought into sharp focus as your ranger reveals some of the challenges faced by these seals on a daily basis. Marine debris poses an ongoing and very real problem. The curiosity and playfulness of the seal pups especially can lead them to investigate or play with a whole range of objects they find in the water, and results all too often in a seal becoming entangled.
Phillip Island Nature Parks’ researcher Dr Rebecca McIntosh leads a dedicated group of rangers and skilled volunteers on regular research missions to Seal Rocks and they manage to rescue an average 20 entangled seals each year. Entanglements are often life-threatening and can occur from a range of discarded items including fishing nets, fishing line, plastic bags, balloon strings, hats, and even the plastic yokes that hold a six-pack of beer cans together.
“Rescuing seals is an enormously difficult task and it’s a problem best tackled by ensuring these materials don’t find their way into the marine environment in the first place,” says Dr McIntosh.
Your time out at Seal Rocks is drawing to a close and as you say goodbye to the thousand or so new friends you’ve just made, you feel empowered to make a difference, and you marvel at the time you got to spend with these amazing mammals. The fun isn’t quite over though as your skipper shows you that a surfboard is not the only thing that can catch a wave as you ride the surging ocean swell at the Cat Bay National Surfing Reserve on the way back to Cowes.
Phillip Island Nature Parks is a self-funded not for profit organisation, so all proceeds from ticket sales on the EcoBoat or any of its other attractions are invested straight back into ongoing research, conservation and education activities, including rescue missions on Seal Rocks.