The secret to seeing (and photographing) seals when kayaking

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Remember to look behind you

The biggest secret to seeing seals close up while kayaking shouldn’t be a secret at all… It’s simply to remember to look behind yourself. It is illegal to approach a seal too closely (federal marine mammal act), but it is not illegal for them to approach you. So let them do the hard work and stay out of trouble yourself.

A curious seal popping its head up for a better view

Seals can be curious, outgoing and social creatures, however after hundreds of years of being hunted by people they can also be rather shy and skittish, especially if you go charging after them in your kayak (or other boat). If you respect them and give them space, their curiosity will often get the better of them and they will actually come towards you, and you will find them closer than if you had tried approaching them.

A whole bunch of curious seals

Often though, for them to approach to their very closest, they will try and sneak up on you so that they can watch you without your knowing. This means that after they have arrived fairly close, they will dive down and come up behind you. They feel safer this way, seeing without being seen, and so if you remember to turn and look behind from time to time you might just be surprised to see that you are the one being watched.

This seal approached me, and then dove down and swam under my kayak, inspecting it from underneath, before swimming off

While having a long lens on your camera can be great for taking photographs of wildlife from your kayak, it can also help your image if the seals come to you, giving you a close up no matter what camera you are using. For more tips try reading Kayak wildlife photography tips.

Sometimes these gentle creatures will feel most comfortable with a friend to watch their backs and egg them on

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in How to, kayak photography, marine life, nature photography, Photo Essay, seals, wildlife photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The secret to seeing (and photographing) seals when kayaking

  1. Mattie Ivy says:

    My favorite curious – and generally friendly – creatures of the bay! I love the squadron of seals shot.

  2. Your photographs are wonderful. I saw a harbor seal this past weekend in Boston. He did exactly what you talked about. He popped up right next to the boat, took a look at me, disappeared, and surfaced just behind the boat. Now if I can just get some better pictures of the wild dolphins I see. I am usually too busy watching them to remember to take photos!

    • Thank you very much. I am glad to hear that our East Coast and West Coast harbor seals share this same careful curiosity. It keeps me relevant… Except when it comes to dolphins. Unfortunately dolphins are so uncommon in the waters I find myself kayaking in that I have not been able to study them and come up with a good technique. I’ll have to remedy that.

      Thank you for stopping by. I look forward to Reading your blog in more detail when I am in front of a computer and not just my phone

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