A motley crew of wordsmiths from all over the globe embarked on a thrilling journey to uncover the Marine Big 5. Rhino Africa’s travel writers from Spain, Brazil, Germany, France and South Africa travelled from Cape Town to the coastal town of Gansbaai via the Whale Route on a fortuitous morning when the skies where watchful and clear in July. While our mission was worthy indeed, we kept our hopes low and prayed for one sighting at the very least. That day, we saw all but one member of this oceanic group and perhaps (if our hopeful eyes are to be believed) the final member from a far, far distance.
We left the Mother City at 8am headed for this tourist hub and fishing town, just a 30-minute drive from Hermanus, a neighbouring visitor’s paradise. Both villages share Walker Bay, an enriching cove that, depending on the season, abounds with whales, dolphins, seals, sharks and penguins. We arrived in Gansbaai an hour and 45 minutes after our departure and after a scenic drive through rolling hills, quaint villages and the stretch of the southeast coast.
On arrival, we were met by the team at Dyer Island Cruises & Marine Dynamics, one of Rhino Africa’s favourite ocean adventure service providers. That morning’s weather conditions were wonderful so, after a safety demonstration and video, we headed out on our ocean adventure.
Whale season in the Western Cape runs from June to November. During this period, you can see groups of whales along the shallow waters of the ocean as they perform their rigorous mating ritual, linger for the gestation period and then depart to their icy feeding grounds off Antarctica towards the end of the season. Through the crystal-clear water, we were treated to a show by three Southern right whales as the two males made a display for the lone female’s approval. Already on a high, we didn’t know if this sighting could be topped; until a sister company to Dyer Island Cruises & Marine Dynamics alerted us of a great white shark sighting.
Needless to say, it was unbelievably thrilling to observe this majestic 3-metre-long titan in the translucent waters on a day when the sun was particular irradiating. We savoured the moment before journeying ahead to Dyer Island to view the fascinating African penguin in its habitat. We encountered a colony of this highly endangered species in this protected bird sanctuary that used to house 25 000 pairs. Today, largely due to human interference, only 900 penguin pairs remain. This added more weight to the visit as, though efforts to preserve the precious creatures are underway, their continued existence is uncertain.
In contrast, the population of Cape fur seals in the adjacent Shark Alley is an exhibit of a thriving species. 60 000 of these – aromatic, for lack of a better word – creatures breed on this strip of ocean between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. These seals are a steady source of food to sharks and the waters draw an abundance of these predators between May and August particularly.
Our adventure having proven an enormous success, we made our way back inland – the sea was, however, not done showing off its wonders. Seemingly out of nowhere, we were surrounded by Humpback whales. Known to be a particularly playful bunch, they made a great show of disappearing and reappearing above the water, flashing their enormous tales and splashing them dramatically on the water. It was the perfect close to a day of marvels.
There’s no denying the thrill of a journey in search of the Marine Big 5 but there are, of course, ethical considerations. It’s important to choose the right agency and ensure that your impact on these amazing creatures in positive. During our cruise, the crew at Dyer Island Cruises & Marine Dynamics ensured to pick up any litter and debris we found on the sea surface to keep this habitat as pristine as possible. Not only that, thanks to generous sponsors, the company is able to do conservation work through the Dyer Island Conservation Trust. There’s the opportunity to donate to the organisation after the cruise or to visit their nearby penguin sanctuary.
If a Marine Big 5 adventure is on the cards during your visit to our shores, be sure to get in touch with one of our expert travel consultants to plan the bespoke itinerary of your dreams to include this and other unforgettable activities.
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