Whale Sightings Table Bay
Several species of whales enter Table Bay, and are sighted intermittently depending on the seasons. Southern Right whales are the most commonly sighted whales, and appear in the bay from June to November. Dark in colour, they have white growths (callosities) on and around their heads. They have no dorsal fins, and their flippers are broad and relatively short.
Humpback whales enter the bay in summer. They have pointed snouts, double blowholes, large, flat heads, and rounded bodies which narrow to a slender tail.
Bryde’s whales largely inhabit tropical and subtropical waters, but are sometimes seen in Table Bay pursuing large shoals of pelagic fish, such as pilchards and anchovies.
Dolphins are plentiful in Table Bay. They are a key feature of the Table Bay Marine Game Drive, surfacing in pods, breaching close to the boat, and surfing in its twin bow waves.
Heaviside’s dolphins are only found off the Namibian and Cape West Coasts. A smaller species, their heads and bodies are a mixture of dark and light grey, and they have white underbellies. They are very playful and often jump clean out of the water.
Dusky dolphins are small to medium sized dolphins found in coastal waters in the southern hemisphere. They have two white stripes running from their dorsal finds to their tails, and their dorsal fins are two-toned. They are very acrobatic, and even perform somersaults.
Cape fur seals
Cape fur seals are endemic to the South African and Namibian coasts. At home both on land and in the water, these large mammals are a familiar sight in the V&A Waterfront, where they lounge on wharves and jetties. Clumsy on land, they are sleek and graceful in the water.
These unusual fish are called ‘sunfish’ because of their habit of basking in the sun on the surface of the sea. They are also called ‘swimming heads’ as they resemble a fish head and tail without a body. Docile and slow-moving, they can be observed at close range, and have become one of the highlights of the Table Bay Marine Game Drive.
With a breeding colony on Robben Island, these flightless birds are often seen in the bay, diving for fish and drifting in the currents with their young. They are unafraid of humans, and can be observed from close by. They can dive up to 100 metres deep and stay underwater for up to three minutes, swimming with their wings instead of their flippers. Their distinctive colouring is a vital form of camouflage – white for underwater predators looking upwards, and black for predators looking down on to the water.
Table Bay teems with various marine bird species, including:
Terns (sterretjies), graceful little white birds which migrate over long distances, and hunt fish by diving vertically into the water, a phenomenon known as plummet feeding.
Cape Gannets (malgas), large, streamlined, vividly coloured birds which hunt small fish in spectacular fashion by diving vertically into the water from heights up to 30 metres.
Cormorants (duikers), large black coastal birds which hunt by plunge diving from the surface and then paddling underwater up to depths of 45 metres. They can be seen sitting in large numbers on the breakwater outside the V&A waterfront, spreading their wings in the sun to dry.
Black-browed Albatross, a medium-sized albatross with a wing span of up to 2,5 metres They have bright pink upper wings that contrast with their orange rumps and underparts. The underwing is largely white, with black edges. These graceful birds breed on 12 islands in the southern oceans, and live for up to 70 years.
Kelp gulls, black and white gulls commonly found on coasts and islands through much of the southern hemisphere. They are common in Table Bay, and can be seen in large numbers scavenging behind ships and trawlers.
Hartlaub’s gulls, smaller, white and grey gulls endemic to the Atlantic Ocean coastline of South Africa and Namibia. Adults fly from Robben Island to the mainland to find food for their chicks, a round trip of about 24 kilometres. They scavenge for food on land and in the water, and are widely regarded as a nuisance.