MARINE SIGHTINGS IN PLETTENBERG BAY - GARDEN ROUTE

The best time for viewing Whales is from July to October along the Cape South Coast, there are great land based and boat based sighings to be had in Plettenberg Bay.

 

Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Bottlenose Dolphins surfing the waves in Keurbooms

The Bottlenose Dolphin is probably the most well known cetacean due to it's entertainment ability in captivity, visibility from shore and from popular children’s shows like "Flipper." Their only natural enemy appears to be the killer whale, although they are more and more impacted by pollution and toxins released into the oceans, the coastal types suffering most.

Most aquariums around the world have bottlenose dolphins in captivity, although with the increased screening of nature films and wildlife documentaries, as well as increased public awareness of conservation issues, they have become less popular centers of entertainment.

 

Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis & Delphinus capensis)

Common Dolphins

As their name implies, the Common Dolphin is one of the most abundant of all dolphin species, found world-wide in tropical and warm temperate waters. They often occur in very large schools and are sometimes associated with diving gannets and feeding whales and penguins. Generally, schools move at about 7 km/h, but common dolphins are fast swimmers and can attain speeds of over 35 km/h.

As with many species, there are sub-divisions into the Short-beaked Common Dolphin and the Long-beaked Common Dolphin to try to cater for variations in sizes and coloration, but even within these two groups, variations still exist. For the purposes of this website, they are difficult to tell apart and are therefore all treated as one Common Dolphin.

Some schools of Common Dolphin estimated to be over 2000 animals have been observed chasing large fish shoals out at sea.Like most dolphins, the Common Dolphin are preyed upon by Orcas and various sharks, their only other threats being man-made (pollution, toxins and fishing activities)

 

Humpback Dolphin (Sousa chinensis & Sousa teuszii)

Humpback Dolphins Plettenberg Bay

The Humpback Dolphin is a large dolphin and is identifiable by the distinctive hump beneath its hooked dorsal fin. There are two types, the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin and the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin. Both of these are treated together on this website, as other than the distinctive Chinese White Dolphin or Pink Dolphin (see below) they are extremely difficult to tell apart, and basically are named depending on their location, as their ranges do not normally overlap.Some take it further and have split them into Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Humpback Dolphin (see map).

Frequently seen swimming, surfing and feeding behind the breakers along the coastline, they can become energetic and acrobatic, but usually this lasts for short periods before they disappear or swim rapidly off.

The Humpback Dolphin is a member of the genus Sousa. These dolphins are characterized by the conspicuous humps and elongated dorsal fins found on the back of adult members of the species. They are found close to shore along the coast of West Africa (Atlantic species) and right along the coast of the Indian Ocean from South Africa to Australia (Indo-Pacific species).

Humpback Dolphins found in Chinese waters are locally known as Chinese White Dolphins ( Pacific or Indo-pacific species).

 

South African (Cape) Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus)

Cape Fur Seals on Robberg Penisula

“Fur Seal” is a common name that does not correspond to a single taxonomic unit, but the species are distinguished by distribution and habitat. Fur seals are therefore any of nine species of pinnipeds in the Otariidae family. They are much more closely related to sea lions than true seals, and share with them external ears (pinnae), relatively long and muscular fore flippers, and the ability to walk on all fours. They are marked by their dense underfur, which made them a long-time object of commercial hunting. 

There are two subspecies of this fur seal - the South African or Cape Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) and the Australian Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus). The Australian Fur Seal population is believed to be derived from the South African fur seal population.

The Cape Fur Seal, or  South African Fur Seal as it is now officially named, is the most common seal species to be found in South African waters, all other seals being just visitors. Due to severe hunting in the early 1800 by the Cape colonists, the Cape Fur Seal was protected in 1893, and controlled hunting only was allowed until 1990, when they were fully protected.

Sealing or 'culling' still occurs in Namibia despite international outcry, the pelts being used for clothing and shoes, while the meat is processed and canned as animal food. While still protected, they are not considered endangered at all, although many are randomly shot by local fishermen as they are a nuisance to fishermen at sea. They will poach the catch from line or net given the opportunity.

 

Bryde's Whale (Balaenoptera edeni)

Brydes Whale in Plettenberg Bay

Bryde's Whales are baleen whales, one of the "great whales" or rorquals. They prefer tropical and temperate waters and are never seen in the colder temperate, sub-polar and polar seas and are thus often called the Tropical Whale. They are largely coastal rather than pelagic. Bryde's Whales are very similar in appearance and almost as large as, (and are often mistaken for) Sei Whales.

"Bryde" is pronounced "brooda or brooders", the name coming from the Norwegian consul to South Africa, Johan Bryde, who helped set up the first whaling station in Durban, South Africa in 1908. They are often seen feeding at sea, usually associated with frenzy feeding together with other bird, seal and penguin species, but are generally shy and keep away from vessels and other disruptive activities. Best spotted from whale watching vessels, they may come closer to investigate, but often when seen as individuals will continue swimming away and feeding.

 

Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Humpback Whale

The Humpback Whale is a baleen whale (filter feeder) and a rorqual whale that sings amazing songs. The name humpback describes the motion it makes as it arches its back out of the water in preparation for a dive. It performs complex and cooperative feeding techniques. Humpbacks live in pods and have 2 blowholes. They have huge, mottled white flippers with rough edges that are up to one-third of its body length; these are the largest flippers of any whale. The deeply-notched flukes (tail) are up to 12 feet (3.7 m) wide. Humpbacks have a small dorsal fin toward the flukes.

 

 

 

Southern Right Whale (Balaena australis)

Southern Right Whales in Plettenberg Bay

The Right Whales (Eubalaena spp.) are baleen whales with bow-shaped lower jaw and a head that is up to one-quarter of the body length. The head contains numerous patches or callosities (a series of horny growths) behind the blowhole, on the chin, above the eyes, on the lower lip, and on the rostrum (the beak-like upper jaw). Right whales are rich in blubber and have 2 blowholes, and due to the blubber content, the fact that they are slow swimmers and float after being killed, were so named by whalers who considered them the "right" whales to hunt. As a result, the world right whale population was hunted almost to extinction.

There are two species of Right Whale: The Northern Right Whale (NRW) and the Southern Right Whale (SRW), each remaining in their hemispheres and never crossing the equator. Northern Right Whales are almost extinct with a few numbers remaining, while the Southern Right Whale is beginning to make a healthy recovery following the ban on hunting in the mid 1900’s.

The northern and southern right whales are very similar, although it appears that the two populations never mix. Northern rights go north to the Arctic to feed at the same time that southern rights move north toward warmer waters to calve and breed, and when southern rights go south to the Antarctic to feed the northern rights move southward toward warmer waters to calve and breed.

 

Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna)

Hammerhead Shark

The Hammerhead Sharks are a group of sharks ( there are 9 species) in the family Sphyrnidae, so named for the unusual and distinctive structure of their heads, which are flattened and laterally extended into a "hammer" shape called a "cephalofoil". All nine species have this projection on the sides of the face that ressemble a flattened hammer. Hammerheads are found worldwide in warmer waters along coastlines and continental shelves.

 

 

 

Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

Great White Shark

The Great White Shark, also known as great white, white pointer, blue pointer, or white death. It is a large shark found in coastal surface waters in all major oceans and is arguably the world's largest and best known predatory fish, eating dolphins, porpoises, whale carcasses and seals. It is at the top of its food chain and other than humans, has no known predators to hunt it. It is the only surviving species of its genus, Carcharodon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hear you can listen to the sounds made by whales and dolphins as collected by the Garden Route research hydrophones.

 

ConserBio is an initiative that supports nature conservation and environmental awareness through scientific research and outreach education.

 

Marine mammal acoustic monitoring, Garden Route