Africa’s Marine Big 5

You’ve heard of Africa’s Big 5 on land, but what about the marine Big 5? The East Coast of Africa is home to loads of marine life, and happens to be home to the Big 5 of the water: Southern Right Whale, African Penguin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Great White Shark, and Cape Fur Seals! Many of these species are endangered due to overfishing, coastal development, pollution, climate change, and poaching. Here’s a great intro to the Marine Big 5, from our friends at Grootbos.

Southern Right Whale
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Over 3000 Southern Right Whales migrate all the way from the freezing waters of the Antarctic to calve, nurse their young, and mate in the sheltered bays and warm waters of South Africa’s coastline.

These gentle giants grace South Africa with their presence for about half the year, from June to December.

The name Southern Right comes from early whalers, who determined that these were the ‘right whales’ to hunt. Not only did they fetch a good market price but they were also easy prey. They swam slowly, spending a lot of their time on the surface and near the coastline, and would float when dead. Whale populations plummeted right up until the 20th century but finally became internationally protected in 1935. Populations have recovered well since then although they still have a long way to go.

Today these whales are the “right whales” to watch. Besides the huge concentration of Southern Rights in Walker Bay and their tendency to show off, the cliffs and coastal pathways of Hermanus offer the best land-based whale watching in the world! Our friends at Grootbos take you to the best viewing sites and offer boat-based and airborne tours for another perspective!

African Penguin
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These dapper little dudes are ready for some fun in the sun! Despite their playful demeanor, these guys are in trouble. The African Penguin is an endangered species. In the 1900’s people sought-after penguin eggs as a delicacy and nearly whipped out the entire population. Add pollution and overfishing to the equation and their species isn’t doing so well.  Interested in how you can help these guys? Click here to learn more.  

Fun penguin fact: African Penguins are also known as Jackass Penguins, due to their donkey-like bray.  It’s black & white tuxedo is also a form of camouflage, known as countershading – their bellies are white to confuse predators swimming below looking up towards the light and their backs are black, confusing predators looking down towards the dark water below.

Bottlenose Dolphin & Humpback Dolphin
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When you’re in South Africa, make sure you get the chance to visit Dyer Island. Here you’ll have the opportunity to encounter Bottlenose dolphins and Humpback dolphins! Check out this great video of some of these playful creatures!

The Humpback Dolphin, is known as such because of the large hump on it’s back. Dyer Island has a resident pod of this highly endangered species.  The Common Bottlenose Dolphin is the archetypal dolphin, commonly seen on television and in aquariums. At Dyer Island, you’ll encounter the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin, which is a sub-species of the Bottlenose Dolphin. Neither of these species tends to venture into waters much deeper than 30 m, which is why human encounters are common.

Great White Shark
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“Why don’t you come for a swim, get out of that big ol’ cage, promise I won’t bite! Heh heh.”

The Great White Shark is the most feared and revered predator of the ocean. Unfortunately, due to negative publicity, it has suffered undeserved persecution and is today an endangered species. Why protect the mean old Great White Shark? It’s at the top of the food chain and keeps the oceans balanced. Without them, there would be a serious knock-on effect that would threaten the survival of several other species.

Contrary to popular believe, they’re not the mindless killers people believe them to be, but are in fact highly selective hunters, feeding on a variety of fish, seals, and even dolphins. Their finely developed senses allow them to detect the electrical impulses of their prey.

The Great White is one of the most ancient and adapted species of the ocean, believed to have been around for over 70 million years. Their very first ancestors may have even outlived the dinosaurs and the ice age, appearing as early as 200 – 500 million years ago! Yet there is still much we need to discover about these awe-inspiring guardians of the deep.

Cape Fur Seals
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“Paint me like one of your French girls.”

Cape Fur Seals are the only resident seals in South Africa. You can find a colony of nearly 60,000 Cape Fur Seals at Geyser Rock- just off the coast of Gansbaai. These guys are super playful and as you can see, a bit proud.  They are mammals which mean that they give live birth to their young and feed them with milk. This also means that they cannot breathe underwater. Their diet consists mostly of bony fish but they also eat squid, octopus and occasionally crayfish (rock lobster). Fully-grown male seals, or ‘bulls’, can weigh more than 300 kg while females, or ‘cows’, are much smaller, weighing around 80 kg.

Fun Cape Fur Seal facts:

  • They are mammals, they give live birth to their young and feed them with milk.
  • They cannot breathe underwater.
  • Their diet consists mostly of bony fish but they also eat squid, octopus and occasionally crayfish (rock lobster).
  • Fully-grown male seals, or ‘bulls’, can weigh more than 300 kg while females, or ‘cows’, are much smaller, weighing around 80 kg.

Are you ready to take the family on an adventure of a lifetime with this South African Family Adventure! Immerse yourself in the beautiful Garden Route, spend some time in Cape Town, and discover the Marine Big 5 in Hermanus! Learn more about our handcrafted African Family Adventure here.  Start planning your next getaway today, give us a call and speak with our Africa Travel Specialists, 888-229-0082.  Need a little more inspiration, click here to discover our handcrafted itineraries and unique destinations.