Dolphins move so fast it is at times difficult to identify which type they are, but with this quick guide to the dolphins of Cape Town’s waters, you’ll have a better chance of getting it right (although it’s important to note that there is considerable colour variation).
Dusky – This highly gregarious and acrobatic dolphin prefers cool, upwelling waters and cold currents as found in the Cape and many other Southern Hemisphere coastlines. While the upperside is dark, there is a distinctive swathe of white that runs in an artistic sweep from above the beak, along the side and underside with two white blazes towards the tail. If you see a mass of activity as if the sea is bubbling with fish, it could be these guys herding the fish into a ball to feed.
Common – The Common dolphin is quite large with that typical dolphin face, although those found in Cape Town waters are the shorter beaked variety. The top of the back is dark grey-to-black, dipping to form a V in the middle of the body. Sides are light grey or even yellowish forward of the V fading to grey further back, creating a sort of hourglass pattern and its belly is white. They are fast swimmers and often found in large schools, jumping and splashing around.
Bottlenose – This is Flipper, the most recognisable of all dolphins with a long grey body and happy-looking face. They are highly active at the surface and like to body surf the waves. They live in groups from 10-30 members but sometimes in much greater numbers. They do hunt individually but often work as a team to harvest fish.
Killer Whales – You may not be aware that Killer Whales belong to the oceanic dolphin family and that Orcas are found in all oceans, whether freezing Arctic or Antarctic or warm tropical seas and are apex predators. I hardly need describe them as you’ve probably seen pictures of them beaching themselves in Argentina to grab seals. They are in Cape waters although rarely seen.
For an artistic view of dolphins and whales, from a Capetonian who has been studying them for years, visit Noel Ashton’s website.