Did you know the 30km stretch of ocean along False Bay near Cape Town is nicknamed the Serengeti of the Seas? Indeed, with abundant ocean life, South Africa even boasts a Marine Big Five, referring to the five most majestic creatures that flourish along our southern shores.
Safari enthusiasts will connect the term to the traditional African Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. Under the water, whales, sharks, seals, dolphins and penguins rule.
Just like you can hop on a safari to see the great mammals of the plains and bush, you can also embark on a seafari to view the great creatures of the deep blue sea. Here’s what you need to know:
Meet the Marine Big Five:
It’s no surprise that whales, the biggest mammals on earth, make the list. South Africans regularly see large pods of southern right and humpback whales along our coastline during calving season. Interestingly, did you know that orcas, also known as killer whales, are actually not whales at all, but dolphins?
South Africa has become one of the top places in the world to see great white sharks, known as the most aggressive of all shark species. Between Cape Town, Simon’s Town, Gansbaai and Mossel Bay, visitors even have the opportunity to see these fierce creatures up close on a shark cage-diving expedition. Once the foremost predator of the sea, great white sharks are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Did you know almost nine different species of dolphin can be spotted along South African shores? The bottlenose, common and humpback dolphins are most likely to be seen as they tend to swim closest to the shore in the surf; however, more can be spotted if you venture by boat to the open ocean.
Cape fur seals live along the Namibian and South African coast. They can be seen along South Africa’s south-western coast up to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. Cape fur seals are known to be inquisitive creatures, often resulting in close interactions with divers. It’s also comforting to know that the species has been evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is not labelled as threatened.
You may be surprised that the penguin is included as a member of the Marine Big Five. These sea birds, especially the African penguin found in South Africa, are neither particularly big, nor intimidating. If you see these cute critters in action in the water, your opinion may change. Penguins are incredibly agile in water and can reach speeds of up to 20km/h, making them highly effective hunters of small fish.
Where to hop on a seafari:
South Africa has established 20 marine protected areas to date. In total, they expand protection of the country’s oceans to 5%. Marine protected areas ensure healthy ocean ecosystems and are vital to the survival of many species that are facing rapid decline due to ocean pollution and overfishing.
Goukamma Nature Reserve on the Garden Route is a fantastic place to start your underwater adventure. The marine protected area of the park extends into the ocean for 1.85km and stretches across 15km of shoreline. The area is home to a resident pod of Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, as well as bottlenose dolphins and southern right whales.
In the reefs, you’ll also find South Africa’s national fish, the galjoen. To explore the waters, you can go snorkelling or kayaking, or venture out by boat to enjoy a closer view of the whales.
Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth offers a unique experience to visitors by being home to the original Big Five, as well as the Marine Big Five in its marine conservancy. Hop on a marine eco-tour run by Raggy Charters for the incredible opportunity to spot as many of these majestic creatures as possible.
Cape Nature and South African National Parks are the custodians and caretakers of many of South Africa’s marine protected areas. Plan a day trip or holiday to one of their parks connected to a marine conservancy for a once-in-a-lifetime ocean experience.