Jurien Bay is a seaside town 220 kilometres north off Perth. It is at the southern end of the Coral Coast that extends up to Exmouth and includes Ningaloo Reef. But you don’t need to go that far for an amazing wildlife encounter. Jurien Bay is home to a colony of Australian sea lions and swimming with them is one of the most fun experiences you’ll have.

Swimming with sea lions is a wildlife experience no other. These puppies of the sea are curious, playful and quite happy to come up and say hello to any people that swim into their patch of water. The Jurien Bay Marine Park includes several islands that the sea lions call home.

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Essex Rocks Jurien Bay

Where can you swim with sea lions in Australia?

Australian sea lions are an endangered species. Their populations occur along Australia’s southern and western coastline. There are two places where you have the chance to swim them – the west coast of South Australia in Baird Bay and here at Jurien Bay.

Australian Sea Lions
Australian Sea Lion
Australian Fur Seals
Australian Fur Seal

What’s the Difference between Sea Lions and seals?

You might think you see seals in far more places than the bottom of Australia. What you are probably spotting basking on rocks of floating around with a flipper in the air are Australian or New Zealand fur seals. There are small differences between seals and sea lions. Besides where they live, sea lions have little ears rather than the ear holes that seals have. Sea lions can also ‘walk’ on the rear flippers more so than seals do.

Where are the sea lions in Jurien Bay?

We have swum with the Australian sea lions at Baird Bay near Streaky Bay in South Australia and Australian  Fur Seals near Sorrento in Victoria. These swims have been so much fun we couldn’t wait to meet the Jurien Bay sea lions. Swimming with seal and sea lions is always an exhilarating experience. Even if you haven’t done a sea lion swim before, you only need to look at a picture of one staring into a camera to know you want to meet them.

The Jurien Bay sea lions live in colonies on the small islands off Jurien Bay. Our tour went to the colony on Essex Rock. If you spend time around the beautiful beaches in the area you might also spot them swimming around. For a close encounter though, it is best to go with an accredited tour provider to the sea lion islands.

Jurien Bay Sea Lion Tours

Jurien Bay Sea Lion Tours

Jurien Bay sea lion tours run first thing in the morning. For our sea lion swim in July this meant it was cold and the sun was just coming up as we pulled into the car park at the Jurien Bay boat harbour. We went out with the team from Turquoise Safaris and can’t recommend them enough. They were organised and informative but still brought a relaxed and friendly vibe to the morning.

From the harbour it is only a 10 or 15 minute boat ride out to Essex Rocks. Along the way we’re sorted out with all our gear which includes a three quarter length wetsuit and face mask, snorkel and fins. We took our own face mask and snorkel. The one size fits all fins were perfect for the swim and the wetsuits fitted well and kept us warm for the 90 minute swim.

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Jurien Bay Sea Lions

First Sighting…

Our boat drops anchor about 100 meters from the island. We can see a dozen or so sea lions either on the beach or in the shallow water. Between us and the island is a dark patch of reef which stands out against the sandy bottom. From the reef to the island, it is no go zone for swimmers. We wait on the other side of the reef for the sea lions to come to us.

We’re told to move around and ‘look busy’ when we’re in the water as the sea lions are more likely to come over if you are on the move. The last instructions we get are that it is fine to get pictures and videos of the sea lions, but we should avoid moving our cameras around too much. This can get the sea lions a little too excited – and that is something you want to avoid.

Jurien Bay Sea Lions

Are sea lions dangerous to swim with?

On hearing this, a couple of the more nervous swimmers in the group stopped and belatedly asked if sea lions are dangerous to swim with. Generally, sea lions are safe to swim with, but you don’t want to get them too hyped up. Like puppies, young sea lions will play with their mouth.

That’s fine if you are another sea lion, a decent layer of fat protects them from a playful nip. For a person though, their sharp teeth can make a real mess of your finger. That said, bites are rare. You are also unlikely to bump into a shark on your sea lion swim. The 2-3 metre deep water is a bit shallow for them to cruise around in.

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Jurien Bay Sea Lions

Attention seeking

We had about 90 minutes in the water, but it felt like a lot less – the time goes so fast. The first part of the sea lion swim is the trickiest while you wait for them to come out and say hello. We all dived and swum and kicked along looking as playful as we could, but the grey morning had made the sea lions a bit sluggish.

After around 20 minute our groups initial excitement and worn off. We all stood in the water looking across at the island wondering what we had to do to get the sea lion’s attention. We were at the back of the group looking at everyone else looking at the island when out of nowhere, a head popped up that didn’t belong.

YouTube video

Play time!

In the patch of water between Nat and me and the rest of our group a sea lion popped its head up and joined us staring back at the island. It was a hilarious sight. We both laughed as we yelled to the group ‘behind you!’ As they turned it ducked underwater and two more sea lions appeared from across the reef. Play time had started.

For the next half hour there were swimmers and sea lions going everywhere. To be honest for much of the time it felt like we were little more than a human obstacle course for the young sea lions to weave between and jump over. There was a lot of competition for the attention. They would come and swim right alongside you for a moment, looking into your face mask, but as soon as they saw some movement elsewhere, they were off.

Between acrobatic displays, they lay on their back on the sandy bottom having a bit of a scratch and blowing slow big bubbles out of their nose. Very cute. Watching them dodge and weave and jump at speed so close was amazing; their agility in the water is something to behold.

Jurien Bay Sea Lions

One on one with a sea lion

After an hour or so in water a number in our group hopped out for a break. This seemed to be a cue for the sea lions to spend a bit more time with the people still in the water. We had sea lions coming up so close to us there wasn’t room to raise a camera to get a picture. And these weren’t brief encounters, the sea lions stayed nose to face mask for 10 or 15 seconds at a time. It was heart racing, thrilling stuff.

The play between the sea lions didn’t slow down. At one point as two of them chased each other around jumping out of the water, one landed on Nat’s head. There was no harm done. It felt like a heavy, blobby pillow dropping on top of her. Our one on one time lasted for another 30 minutes, for a total of 90 minutes in the water, before we got the call to go back to the boat.

Jurien Bay Sea Lions

Number one thing to do in Jurien Bay

Back on board we got out of our gear had sipped on a much welcome hot drink as we swapped stories of our sea lion close encounters. The sea lions continued to swim and jump around and it was fun seeing it from above the water. If you have an underwater camera, it is almost impossible to not get a cute sea lion picture – they get so close to you and the water is crystal clear. If you are heading to Jurien Bay, put swimming with the Jurien Bay sea lions at the top of your list of things to do.

If you enjoyed this story you might also like:

Snorkelling Guide to Coral Bay  |  Driving the Nullarbor  |  The Pinnacles

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Jurien Bay Sea Lions
Jurien Bay Sea Lions
Jurien Bay Sea Lions
Jurien Bay Sea Lions

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