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Meet the Marine Big 5

The Big 5: Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant, and Buffalo. They are a large part of the reason why visitors flock to Africa, and they dominate the land. But did you know that we have also have the Marine Big 5? Africa’s oceans have been termed the Serengeti of the Seas, so prolific is the sea life that flourishes along our beautiful coastline. More than that, they can be enjoyed right here, in Cape Town.

So who or what is on the list?


 1. The South African Fur Seal

These playful creatures are often termed the ‘puppies’ of the sea, such is there affinity for antics and fun. They are the largest of all of the fur seals, and are particularly special because they’re only found along the shores of South Africa and Namibia.

While a little lumbering on land, once under water they are swift and graceful swimmers. Spot them at the V&A Waterfront, where they often take to the docks to catch a few winks before plopping back into the ocean. Eager to get up close and personal? Book a seal snorkeling experience, where you can dive and play alongside these salty sea ‘dogs’ in the coastal town of Hout Bay. Watch a video of the experience here.


 2. Southern Right Whale

Whales are the biggest mammals on earth, so it is only fitting that they make the cut. While our seas are home to a variety of species, the Southern Right Whale is the star of the show. Named so by whale hunters as they were considered the ‘right’ whales to hunt when it was sadly legal to do so, these graceful giants can be distinguished by their callosities – barnacle covered skin patches on their heads and around their long, arching mouths.

They are black in colour, approximately 15 metres in length, weigh in at a whopping 80 tonnes and are characteristically devoid of a dorsal fin, but can be seen waving their flukes (tail fins) out the water to catch the wind, in a playful manoeuvre known as ‘sailing’. They visit our coastline between June and November each year, where they mate and give birth to their calves. For more info on where to spot them, read our Whale Watching piece.


 3. African Penguin

From large to little, these tuxedoed chaps are perhaps the sweetest members of the Marine Big 5 list. Also known as the Jackass Penguin (for their donkey-like braying call), the African Penguin is an endangered species only found along the South West Africa coast.

The Boulders Beach colony is closest for Cape Town visitors, but you need not head that far to enjoy these diminutive waddlers. In fact, the Two Oceans Aquarium is home to a small colony, and you are welcome to drop in for some sleek swimming action, or a sardine feed. Read more about who you will meet here.


 4. Great White Sharks

Image by Shark Zone

From funny to fearsome! South Africa is one of the best places in the world to see (or even dive with) Great White Sharks. These magnificent, but often misunderstood creatures, populate the waters of Simons Town and Gansbaai, where they feed on seals and large fish. While they might strike fear into humans, the actual incidences of attack are extremely rare (you are more likely to get zapped by a toaster), and it is even estimated that these super predators (that can grow longer than 6m in length!) number no more than 10,000 due to overfishing. While they do not keep Great White at the Two Oceans Aquarium, you can get in on the predator action by visiting the Ragged Tooth Sharks who loop the predator exhibit and are bound to give you the thrill that only sheer size (and large teeth) can induce.


 5. Bottlenose Dolphins

Image by Atlantic Outlook

Last, but certainly not least on the list, is the Bottlenose Dolphin. Again, the Cape shores are home to many species of dolphin and whale, but we’re most likely to see the ones that stick close to the shoreline. These playful beauties are found in pods of 5-15 (though there have been sights of superpods of up to 600), and remain in their birth zones throughout their lives.

Image by Melissa Feire

They can be found surfing the breakers, and are the most likely of the whole dolphin family to interact with humans. Highly intelligent, they are even believed to develop particular whistles specific to their pod. There is little that can rival a close encounter with dolphins, so if you are eager to form a connection with these heartwarming ocean dwellers, book a kayaking trip with Atlantic Outlook. Departing from Granger Bay at the V&A Waterfront, they often encounter the local pod, who swim beneath and around the kayakers, playfully jumping in and out the water much to everyone’s awe and delight.


Blog post by Tarah Darge

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