Marine Animals Regularly Seen In Plettenberg Bay…
Percentage chance of seeing the following on any one day, except high Whale Season, when the chances of seeing whales improve to 100% on most days – with a Bay full of Southern Rights, close encounters are as close to assured as possible when dealing with free and wild marine mammals.
Seals & Seabirds 100%
Humpback, Southern Right & Brydes Whales
The Southern Right Whales can be seen in our waters during the winter months, June to October when they migrate from their sub-Antarctic feeding grounds to our sheltered bay to give birth, raise calves and breed. They are slow moving but give spectacular displays of breaching, lob tailing and spy hopping. From mid-June to October we see the Humpback Whales on their annual migration from the Antarctic to their breeding grounds of Madagascar and Mozambique. The Bryde’s Whales are permanent residents, to be seen all year round along our coastline. (Research Project Pending). Minke Whales and other Rare Species are also occasional visitors and on three occasions we have seen seven cetacean species on one trip.
Dolphins & Orcas (or Killer Whales)
Throughout the whole year you can observe the playful and very active Bottlenose Dolphins, which are often encountered in large groups. The rare and shy Indopacific Humpback Dolphin is a worldwide endangered species and small pods live along our coastline. The fascinating Common Dolphins, very agile and one of the fastest swimmers, occur in large groups of 2000 or more individuals, further out on the open sea. Orcas or Killer Whales, which also belong to the dolphin family are transient in this ocean and occur occasionally throughout the year.
Seals and Sharks
A large and very active colony of Cape Fur Seals lives permanently on the Robberg Peninsula and they can be seen in and around the bay and are endemic to South Africa. Sharks, apart from the
famous Great White Sharks, we encounter Hammerheads, Ragged Tooth and Maco Sharks.
Along our coastline we see the African Black Oyster Catcher, South Africa’s second most endangered coastal bird, as well as Gull, Cormorant and Tern Species. Further out to sea we regularly encounter many fascinating Pelagic Birds: Albatross, Petrels, Shearwaters, Cape Gannets.
Bryde’s Whale – Balaenopters Edeni
The Bryde’s Whale is slender, medium- sized and fast moving. They are dark grey in colour with a prominent dorsal fin close to the tail stock. Adults reach up to 14.6 metres in length and weigh up to 20 tonnes. Bryde’s whales are resident in or around the bay all year round; they can sometimes be seen feeding in the company of Cape Gannets and sometimes with various dolphin species. These feeding aggregations are an impressive sight, their diet consisting of schooling fish such as herring, pilchards and sardines, krill and squid.
Exploitation and Protection
In South African waters, 1 564 Bryde’s Whales were taken between 1917 and 1967 from shore-based stations. In 1977, without first consulting with the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) Scientific Committee, Japan’s Far Seas Fisheries Research Laboratory assigned itself a scientific permit to kill 240 Bryde’s Whales in the southern ocean to estimate the population, size and structure of this zero quota stock for rational exploitation. During the 1970’s the ‘pirate’ whaler MV SIERRA killed some 400 whales per year in the Southern hemisphere, some off the South African coast. All this produce was sold to Japan. To date we have few estimates for Bryde’s Whale population size. We do not know, either, how many Bryde’s whales there were before exploitation began.
In 1983, scientist undertook an assessment cruise for the inshore stock of Bryde’s Whales off the South African coast from 21 January to 14 February. A total of 156 whales were sighted between East London and the Orange River mouth. It is apparent from the observations of scientists, complemented by those of Dolphin Action & Protection Group’s (DAPG’s) DOLPHIN WHALE WATCH RSA project, that there is
only a small, discrete population of Bryde’s whales resident inshore in certain areas off the South African coast, which needs continued monitoring and protection.
Southern Right Whale – Eubalaena Australis
This is probably the best known of all whales in South Africa. The Southern Right Whale is stocky and fat in appearance, and marked with skin thickenings or callosities on the upper and lower jaw and above the eye, they have no dorsal fin. Individuals up to 17.7 metres have been recorded. They migrate from their sub Antarctic feeding grounds to bays off the south Cape coast to give birth, raise calves and breed. The Right Whales can be seen with great predictability over several months of the year from May to October and will peak in numbers in August and September. Although they are slow moving whales, they can give a spectacular display of breaching, lobtailing, spyhopping and engaging in apparent courtship rituals. They are selective feeders, feeding on copepods and krill.
Exploitation and Protection
The Southern Right Whale was so named because it was considered to be the ‘right’ whale to hunt. Its high yield of oil, it’s very silky baleen (the large food filter plates which hang from the roof of its mouth) a whale which floated in the water when killed and slow-moving made it one of the most sought after and most ruthlessly hunted of all whale species. Today, the Northern Right Whale is virtually extinct. In the Southern hemisphere, populations show a slow increase since international protection in 1935. There are estimated to be about 4 000-5 000 Southern Right Whales at present, with South Africa receiving the major percentage (approximately 2 300) visiting its coasts annually. Present populations of Southern Right Whales are about 10% of the initial estimated stocks before whaling started in the 18th century.
Humpback Whale – Megaptera Novaengliae
The humpback is a stocky animal with a rounded body narrowing to a slender tailstock; the pectoral fins are huge (Megaptera means “great wing”) and may be as much as a third of the total body length. They reach up to 19 metres and 48 tonnes at maturity. Males produce melodious ‘songs’ that communicate over long distances underwater. Humpback whales are seen off our shores between May and December during their annual migration from their Antarctic feeding grounds to their breeding grounds off Mozambique and Madagascar. They can also be seen on their return journey, when they congregate off Robberg Peninsula where one can witness some awe-inspiring aerial displays. They seldom feed during winter, relying on blubber reserves to sustain themselves. They feed on krill and small schooling fish. Exploitation and Protection Largely because of their tendency to frequent coastal waters, and their habitual return to the same regions each year, humpback whales have been exploited by commercial whalers all around the world. Humpbacks were hunted for their oil, meat, and whalebone. Exploitation of the humpbacks’ prey also has negative impacts on the species; the depletion of the capelin stocks is of particular concern. During the 1970’s, many humpbacks died because of fishing nets; this is still a concern. Oil pollution is also a threat to this species. Most populations were drastically reduced by commercial whalers in the early part of the 19th century, leaving only between 5 and 10 percent of the original stock remaining. In the North Pacific, it is estimated that as many as 15,000 humpbacks existed prior to 1900. The population was truly decimated to fewer than 1,000 individuals before an international ban on commercial whaling was instituted in 1964. In spite of their recent strides towards recovery, humpbacks continue to be designated as an endangered species. The humpback whale has been protected by the International Whaling Commission since 1955 in the North Atlantic and since 1965 in the North Pacific. During the 1980’s, the inhabitants of western Greenland were still hunting humpbacks, but they were limited to 10 whales per year.
Orca – Orcinus Orca
Unmistakable in appearance the Orca is the largest of the dolphin family, with a robust and graceful body boldly marked in glossy black and white. The dorsal fin is very large, jutting upwards in males whilst the female curves backwards and is smaller; they can grow up to 9.4 metres in length. They are most common in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic although they are spotted off our coast periodically. Their diet resembles that of the great white shark both as a predator and in its range of food types.
They are carnivorous and eat fish (including sharks and even great whites), squid, seabirds, seals, turtles, dolphins, and whales. They feed co-operatively in groups of up to twenty, even harassing and killing baleen whales (the largest recorded being a Blue whale which can measure up to 25 metres in length, the average weighing 100 tonnes).
Exploitation and Protection of Orcas / Killer Whales
Regarded as too small by the commercial whalers the Killer whale population has not been depleted. While early whaling practices have accounted for Killer whale deaths and indeed many other small cetaceans, it is defined as ‘subsistance’ or ‘aboriginal’ whaling and refers to the catching of whales from small boats (or from the beach) to satisfy material and cultural needs in local communities. The indians of Vancouver and Washington on the Pacific coast of North America hunted the Gray whale and the Killer whale in this manner and for these reasons. Opportunistic hunting applies to modern whale catchers everywhere. With a fast boat and the right equipment its hard to pass up an easy kill so it is not uncommon for vessels from the Faroes catching Fin whales to harvest small species such as Killer whales and Atlantic White-sided Dolphin. Between 1938 and 1967 the Norwegians took 1,400 Killer whales in the Northeast Atlantic. During it’s 1979-80 Southern Hemisphere whaling season the Soviet fleet targeted the Killer whale, with 916 killed, along with many larger species. A perceived conflict between man and whale in pursuit of a common source of food has led to many Killer whale deaths in the Icelandic and Norwegian herring fisheries.
Bottlenose Dolphin – Tursiops Truncatus
This is the largest of the beaked dolphins; colouration is usually dark grey above, fading on the sides to a pinkish white belly. They live in social pods, at times it is not unusual to have +/- 1000 in the bay. They feed co-operatively on fish and squid sometimes encircling a shoal different members will feed whilst others keep the fish in position.
Common Dolphin – Delphinus Delphis
Large groups of common dolphins up to +/- 2000 are encountered slightly further offshore and in the bay. They are more streamlined and acrobatic often seen riding in the bow wave of boats. They have distinctive markings, the back being black with ochre and grey flanks with a dark stripe from the black beak to and around the eye. They feed on mainly fish and squid, generally being unspecialized and opportunistic.
Indo – Pacific Humpback Dolphin – Sousa Chinensis
Similar in features to the bottlenose dolphin they are distinguished by a hump beneath their dorsal fin. They live in smallish groups; we have one of the healthiest populations of this rare humpback dolphin with two populations on the eastern and western parts of the bay respectfully. Their diet consists of reef-dwelling fish and possibly crustaceans, they have been observed hunting with bottlenose dolphins. These dolphins seldom venture deeper than 15-20 m depth of water.
Exploitation and protection of Dolphins
Dolphins, in general, have not been exploited to the same extent as some other marine species, however, there are several areas that threaten their populations. Habitat depletion is most likely the highest threat to dolphins. Water quality is affected by the input of chemicals, sewage and waste. Dolphins, being at the top of the food-chain, will accumulate toxins in large amounts; which in some parts of the world has been associated with infertility and high mortalities. Depletion of the food resources is possible through overfishing or habitat degradation. Underwater blasting to enlarge channels could also be detrimental to dolphins living close to the area. Commercial Ecotourism is another threat to dolphin populations if their operation is not conducted in an ecological and sustainable fashion. There are currently more operators using dolphins as a major focus for their business. During 1994, the Dolphin Research Institute chaired a forum of tour operators which established a voluntary Code of Practice for their operation. This Code of Practice has formed the basis for the current Code of Practice drawn up by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. Recreational boaters potentially impose pressure on the dolphins in the waters. Extreme cases are sometimes seen where the dolphins are deliberately harassed by people in boats or on power skis. In many cases the harassment is unintentional but most of the pressure could be avoided if recreational users adheared to regulations.
The African Penguin – Spheniscus Demersus
The African (jackass) penguin occurs along the coasts of Namibia and South Africa. These African penguins usually breed on the relative safety of islands. There are 16 species of penguin world-wide, but only the African penguin occurs on our coast. The Jackass, so called because of the sound that it makes, much like a jackass. It is much smaller than other species of penguins with an average height of only 70 cm, a weight of 4.4 kg and a life span of about 27 years. The African penguin spends 75% of their day at sea and can dive from 148 to 160 feet under water. These penguins adjust to different temperatures by huddling together to keep warm when it is cold and by digging burrows underground to keep cool. These birds build their nests under bushes and usually lays two eggs. The gestation period of the eggs is 3 months and both the male and female take turns caring for it.
Exploitation and Protection
African penguins became endangered because of commercial egg and guano collection and because anchovies and pilchards, their preferred prey, were severely depleted by fishing. Seals, which also used to feed on these fish, increasingly prey on penguins. African penguins have also been subject to numerous oil spills over the past 30 years. During the 1994 Apollo Sea disaster about 10 000 penguins were oiled. Several thousand died, further endangering the species. Cape Nature Conservation and SANCCOB managed to rescue, clean, ring and release about 4 500 penguins. About 3000 of these were from Dassen Island and it appears that more than 1 200 have returned to this island. This may be one of the world’s most successful oiled sea-bird rescue operations.
African Black Oyster Catcher – Haematipus Moquini
The rare African Black Oyster Catcher is found only on the coasts of South Africa and Namibia and is the only species of oystercatcher which breeds in Africa. The African Black Oystercatchers’ obtain all their food from the inter-tidal zone of rocky and sandy shores and therefore, can only feed during the low tide periods. Their favorite prey is limpets and mussels. These birds mate for life, where some pairs are known to have been together for nearly 20 years. They are believed to have a life span of 35 years or more and do not breed for the first time until they are three or four years old.
Exploitation and Protection
The world population is less than 5 000 individuals and is entirely confined to the open coast and a few large estuaries between northern Namibia and the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa: more than 75% of the population is in South Africa. It is rarer than the Southern Right Whale and is in an International Red Data Species. The evidence is mounting that the African Black Oyster Catcher faces a conservation crisis due to human pressure on its coastal habitats. Within the last 50 years, one African oystercatcher species have already been driven to extinction by man’s activities. The Oystercatcher Conservation Program was developed in 1998 and is headed by the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. Its aim is to design a conservation strategy for the African Black Oyster Catcher which is scientifically based, defensible and will contribute significantly to the conservation of other coastal species as well as raising awareness of the conservation needs of South Africa’s coast.
Shy Albatross – Diomedea Cauta
This species of Albatross is only slightly smaller than the ‘great’ albatrosses with an average height of 98 cm and differs from the other species by having an all-dark back uniform with the upperwings. They have a pale grey wash to the head with a vaguely contrasting white crown and a greenish bill with a yellow tip. Immature birds have asmudged greyish head and colooar and a dark-tipped grey bill.
These seabirds come ashore only to breed. The Albatrosses are the world’s largest bird, in terms of wingspan. Egg-laying occurs between mid-April to the end of June, usually resulting in one large white egg whose incubation is shared by both parents. The tiny brown hatchling that results gives little indication of the nine pound bird with the six foot wingspan that will result (still, among the smallest of albatross species).
Exploitation and Protection
The shy albatross is listed as vulnerable under the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. Three other albatrosses are also listed as vulnerable and a fourth, the wandering albatross, is listed as endangered. Albatross have threatened species because of two main factors. Firstly albatross are very slow maturers. Some species take up to ten years before they reach reproductive maturity. Then they only lay one egg every two years. Secondly, their lifestyle leads them into danger. Albatross are great fliers. They leave their nest sites as juveniles and spend up to five years at sea. Albatross catch fish by diving under the water. These techniques have stood them in good stead for thousands of years. However human fishing practices have taken an incalculable toll on these seabirds. It’s estimated that up to 1 500 shy albatross are killed each year on longlines out of a total breeding population of 12 000. Albatross get caught when the longlines are newly baited and cast into the water. The birds feed on the still floating fish bait, become hooked and are then dragged under the water and drowned.
Wildlife officers have been developing practical and economically viable solutions to stop albatross from longline tuna fishing. These include an automatic bait caster which consistently throws the bait further from the boat. Lines thrown closer to the boat are pushed to the surface by the action of the propeller. Also, several juveniles have been fitted with transmitters. This will show their migration routes and where they congregate at certain times of the year. This information can then be used to try and reduce seabird by-catch. Such strategies are being adopted by the longlining companies and included in national regulations. Education of both the general public and longlining companies is a very important part in helping to reduce such threats to these birds.
Whitebreasted Cormorant – Phalacrocorax carbo
The Whitebreasted Cormorant is the largest of all cormorants and is recognizable by its all-white throat and breast. Tor a short period while breeding it shows a large white flank patch and white flecking on the head. They forage on inland and in marine coastal waters, diving below the surface to catch fish with their long, hooked bills.
Cape Cormorant- Phalacrocorax Capensis
When seen singly, this medium-sized cormorant might be confused with either the Bank or the Crowned cormorants. Smaller than the Bank Cormorant, it also has a flatter crown and a more snake-like head with an orange to yellow gular area. The Cape Cormorant does not have the same oil glands in their feathers as most other birds. In order to dry their wings they must flap them in the wind.
Cape Gannet – Morus Capensis
The Cape Gannet is a long slender white bird with black flight and tail feathers. The massive pointed bill and yellowish creamy head are seen best at close range. At sea, these birds often fly in skeins, high or low over the water. These birds are inshore or open-ocean feeders. They are most extraordinary birds when seen diving at top speed into the ocean. They breed in colonies on islands and cliffs.
Kelp Gull – Larus Dominicanus
The Kelp Gull may be confused with the Lesser Black-backed Gull but differs by its size. The Kelp Gull is more robust, thicker bill and olive, rather than yellow legs and feet. First-year Kelp Gulls may also be confused with the Subantarctic Skua. Most often seen on inshore waters, this bird also frequents deep-sea trawlers, the open coast, estuaries, harbors and dumps. Gulls are usually identifiable by their wing and head patterns and bill and leg coloration.