Whales of False Bay

Several species of whale come into False Bay and can be seen in the vicinity of Simon’s Town. These include Bryde’s Whale, the Humpback Whale (which is the one that ‘sings’) and the Killer Whale, more commonly known as the Orca. By far the most common, however, is the Southern Right Whale.

Southern Right Whales

Scientific Name And Statistics

Scientific Name: Eubalaena Australis
[eu = Greek, right; balaena = Latin, whale; australis = Latin, south]
Family: Balaenidae
Statistics: Adult females, larger than the males, are on average 15 metres long and weigh about 40-45 tons, while the males are a little smaller at 14 metres.

Description

The term “right” whale refers to the fact that in the nineteenth century these whales were regarded as the “right” whales to catch, because they were particularly rich in oil, being slow swimmers they were easy to catch, and because their carcases were easy to handle as they floated when dead. It is usually considered that there are two species of “right” whales, one in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere.

Southern right whales are baleen whales. This mean that they have about 200 to 270 pairs of fine ‘plates’ which hang down from the upper jaw like vertical venetian blinds, through which they filter their food [see under Diet]. These plates may be up to 3 metres (9.5 feet) long.

The most striking feature of the Southern Right whales are the ‘callosities’ (horny growths) behind the blowholes, and on the face. These provide homes for several other creatures, including the ‘whale lice’ or cyamids, which live on the callosities and operate in a symbiotic relationship with the whales, feeding off the dead skin. Barnacles burrow 4 cm down into the skin. The other characteristic which distinguishes the Southern Right whales are their V-shaped blows. Southern Right whales are black or dark grey in colour. They have no dorsal fin. They have a large, bow-shaped heads and arched mouths. Unusually, Southern Right whales are relatively hairy with up to 300 hairs on the tip of the lower jaw and about 100 on the upper jaw.

Southern Right whales can remain under water for about 6 minutes and swim fairly slowly at an average speed of 6 kilometres and hour when cruising, although than can reach 11 kilometres an hour in short bursts.

Although the humpback whales are the best “singers”, Southern Rights do produce low frequency sounds to communicate with one another.

The lifespan of the Southern Right whale is not established, but it is believed that they can live for over 50 years.

Range & Habitat 

The Southern Right Whale lives between latitudes 20° to 55°, occasionally venturing down to 63°. Although it is to be found throughout the southern oceans, in our part of the world it returns annually to the sheltered bays of the Southern African coast in order to breed and give birth. In False Bay it can be seen between June and November. It is most prolific close to the shore from about September, and it is occasionally seen out of season, as early as May or as late as January.

During the summer months the southern right whales move south to the cold and stormy waters of the Antarctic where it feeds.

Diet

As baleen whales, right whales swim with their mouths open so that the baleen plates can filter out the water and retain the krill forms a large part of their diet. They eat up to 1½ tons a day of these tiny creatures. They are seasonal feeders, eating in winter and living off their blubber in the breeding months in the north.

Reproduction

One female southern right whale will mate with a number of males at the same time, with sometimes as many as eight competing for her favour. The male producing the most sperm is probably the father of her baby. Females usually have one calf every three years.

The gestation period (pregnancy) of the southern right is twelve months, she bears her calf in the spring in the warmer waters of southern African bays. Usually only one calf is born although twins sometimes occur. About 3% of calves are born white, but this usually becomes grey after a few months. The calf is born tail first and immediately swims to the surface of the water to take its first breath. Initially it is helped by the mother but within thirty minutes of birth it can swim. The newborn calf is about 4,5 to 5 metres long.

The calf suckles from a pair of teats, sometimes consuming 600 litres of milk a day and growing 2,8 cm a day. It is weaned after about 6-8 months by which time it has reached about 9 metres in length.

Conservation

Southern right whales are regarded as an endangered species as their numbers have been considerably reduced in the last 200 years. Between 1790 and 1825 it is estimated that over 12 000 southern rights were killed by whalers of the South African coast. Now collisions with ships or entanglement in fishing gear are the main dangers. There are now about 4500 southern right whales, with about 1500 coming to southern Africa. However, southern rights are not as vulnerable as the northern rights which are believed to be close to extinction since they live in more hazardous waters. Moreover, southern rights are increasing in number, doubling in size every ten years, which means that they should have returned to their optimum population size in about 2040.

In 1980 and again in 1984 legislation was introduced in South Africa to protect whales. It is now illegal to shoot at whales, or harass them by coming closer than 300 metres in any craft.

Bryde’s Whales

Scientific Name And Statistics

Scientific Name: Balaenoptera Edeni
Family: Balaenidae
Statistics: Like other baleen whales, mature females are larger than the males, reaching about 14 metres in length, as opposed to the males of 13,5 metres.

Description

Bryde’s whales are distinguised by their prominent “falcate” dorsal fins. They are rorqual whales. This means that they have throat grooves which enable them to open their mouths very wide in order engulf great quantities of water when feeding. However, they are distinguished by three ridges running along the top jaw. The upper body is dark grey, lightening under the belly, becoming white in the centre. There is a slate-grey band across the underside of the body at the end of the throat grooves.

Range & Habitat

Bryde’s whales may be seen along the whole length of the South African coast at any time of the year. However, they are most visible when shoals of small fish are plentiful inshore or in False Bay.

Relatively little is known about Bryde’s whales. There seem to be two populations along the South African coast, one of which is “resident” (non-migratory) in inshore, shallow waters, including False Bay. They are usually seen singly although sometimes small groups from when they are feeding. They are not particularly fast swimmers, nor do they dive deeply, usually remaining under water for a only couple of minutes.

Diet

Bryde’s whales feed on large shoals of small fish like pilchards and sardines, in the company of gannets, penguins and dolphins. They zig-zag through the water on their sides, gulping food as they go.

Reproduction

Little is known of the reproduction of Bryde’s whales.

Conservation

Bryde’s whales have not been exploited much by whalers, and as a result, as far as we know, there has not been a serious depletion of their population.

Humpback Whales

Scientific Name And Statistics

Scientific Name: Megaptera Novaeangliae
[megaptera = huge wings, i.e. the fins]
Family: Balaenopteridae
Statistics: Adult females are larger than the males. Southern hemisphere Humpback whales are slightly smaller than those of the northern hemisphere, with females reaching 13,7 metres and males 13,1 metres. They weigh 30 to 50 tons.

Description

The Humpback whale is distinguished particularly by its very long flippers which are almost a third of its body length and is white in colour. The body is black, although it may have white patches, and is fairly short and round. It has a large head on which there are three irregular rows of knobs (tubercules). There are similar projections on each side of the lower jaw, at the tip of which there is a large, rough, wart-like area. Like the Bryde’s whales, they are rorqual whales with throat grooves running from the chin to the navel. The dorsal fin is fairly short and thick, set on the long, sloping hump which gives the whale its name. There are two blowholes.

The male humpback whale is particularly notable for the wide range of sounds it produces – moans and screams of varied pitch, lasting up to 30 minutes, and ranging from 20 to 9000 Hertz (females don’t sing!) These “songs” differ according to locality and the patterns appear to change from year to year, but seem to occur only in warm waters. It is believed that they are some form of communication.

Humpback whales are the acrobats of the ocean, “breaching” (jumping clear of the water) and “lobtailing” (slapping the water with their tails). They also “spyhop” (poke their heads out of the water). They usually occur singly or in small groups (pods). They remain submerged for about 15 minutes, diving to depths of 150 to 210 metres (500 to 700 feet). Their swimming speed is about 12 kilometres an hour (3 to 9 miles an hour), although speeds of up to 25 kilometres (15 to 16 miles) an hour have been recorded.

Range & Habitat

Humpback whales are to be found all round the Southern African coast but the two main pods are located off the Angolan and Mozambique coasts. They migrate north in the winter, to mate and breed, largely off the east African coast, with their numbers peaking in June and July.

Diet

Humpback whales, like other baleen whales, seem to be seasonal feeders but they do eat copepods and fish off the Angolan coast. On average a Humpback whale eats 2000-2500 kilograms of food a day during the feeding season. They co-operate in hunting, rounding up their prey in “bubble-nets”. A hunting pod forms a circle under water, then blows a wall of bubbles as it swims to the surface in a spiral path. This cylindrical wall of bubbles traps the prey which the humpbacks devour as they all (whales and prey) move to the surface.

Reproduction

Humpback whales form only temporary relationships. Females reach sexual maturity when they are about 15 years old and they bear a calf about every three years. The spectacular activities of the humpback whales, breaching and lobtailing, are believed to be courtship rituals. Gestation lasts about a year, with the female giving birth to a single calf, although twins do occur. The calves are about 4,2 metres long when they are born, and they are suckled for about 10 to 11 months. Humpback whales reach puberty after 4 to 7 years.

Conservation

Because they occur close to the coast and swim fairly slowly, humpback whales have suffered severely from modern whaling. It is estimated that there are about 10 000 to 15 000 whales throughout the world. In South Africa 1963 they received full protection and their numbers do now seem to be increasing.

Killer Whales (Orcas)

Scientific Name And Statistics

Scientific Name: Orcinus Orca
Type: Toothed Whale – Dolphin
Statistics: Unlike the other whales described here, Orca males are larger than the females, reaching a maximum length of 10 metres, while the females average about 7,5 metres.

Description

Orcas are the largest dolphins. They have a short, rounded head with a very short beak containing 10 to13 large conical teeth in each jaw. The flippers are broad and well-rounded at the tips. Their dorsal fins get larger as they grow older, and are their most distinguishing characteristic, sometimes reaching 2 metres high in mature males. They have broad flukes (tails) and the upper parts of their bodies are dark, black to brown, while the lower jaws and bellies are white. Behind the eyes there are oval white patches, and others behind the dorsal fins.

Like all dolphins, orcas produce whistling and clicking sounds. It is thought that the whistling is used for communication with other group members, and the clicks for ‘echolocating’ prey. The effect that the sounds have on other marine animals is dramatic, prompting whales and other dolphins to flee the area, and penguins and seals to head as quickly as they can for land.

Range & Habitat 

Orcas may be found the whole length of the South African coast, including False Bay, but their movements are unpredictable. Little is known of their migratory patterns.

Orcas sometimes form groups of up to 200 animals but in the South African waters they are usually in small groups of 3 or 4. They can attain speeds of up to 30 kilometres and hour and dive for up to 6 or 7 minutes.

Diet

Orcas have a varied diet, ranging from fish, squid, and sea birds to seals, dolphins and small whales. They have a fearsome reputation as killers and seals appear to have an inborn fear of them. Orca packs appear to disable their mammalian prey by biting the flippers or flukes and then attempt to get to the tongue, which they like particularly. One report claims that the remains of 14 seals and 13 porpoises were found in the stomach of one orca!

Despite their fearsome reputations, there are no records of orcas attacking man. In captivity they are docile and respond well to training.

Reproduction

In tropical waters orcas seem to mate and calve throughout the year, but in cooler waters these activities are confined to summer. The gestation period is about a year. Calves are about 2.3 metres long at birth and are suckled for about twelve months. Orcas reach sexual maturity at about 12 years of age, when they are about 5 metres long.

Conservation

It is not known how vulnerable orcas are, although it is suspected that they are endangered.

 

Source Credit: www.simonstown.com

Spotting a King penguin on a whale watching trip in False Bay/Cape Town – this certainly came as a wonderful surprise!
This bird is far off its normal range as illustrated in the accompanying map, but is in good shape as confirmed by SANCCOB and will remain under their caring eyes for the duration of its visit.
This rare event is a real treat for birders – I wonder what our local African penguins make of it?

Interesting facts about king penguins

The king penguin is the second largest species of penguin at 70 to 100 centimeters (2.3 to 3.2 feet) tall and weighs 11 to 16 kilograms (24 to 35 pounds). In size it is second only to the emperor penguin.

There are an estimated 2 to 3.2 million breeding pairs.

Lifespan is 15 to 20 years in the wild, and up to 30 years in captivity.

King penguins eat small fish, mainly lantern fish and squid and rely less than most Southern Ocean predators on krill and other crustaceans.

Ice and water in Antarctica is primarily salty, making it impossible for most animals to drink. The king penguins stomach, however, has adapted to drinking salt water. Its powerful stomach can separate the salt completely, allowing the bird to drink without becoming dehydrated.

The body is a dark black and grey mix all down the back. They have dark yellow on their bill and the back of the neck. They also have this yellow color on the front as the bit of black there gives way to the rest being all white.

 

To keep warm, King penguins have four layers of feathering.The outer layer of feathers are oiled and waterproof, not unlike the feathering of a duck.

The king penguin is one of the most elegant of all penguin species as it’s long and slender body helps the king penguin to glide through the water with great ease.

The average cruising speed for a King Penguin while swimming ranges somewhere between 5 and 10 km per hour (3 to 5 miles per hour).

 

King penguins are excellent divers and have been known to dive as deep as 300 meters (980 ft)!

King Penguins live on the sub-antarctic islands at the northern reaches of Antarctica, as well as Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands and other temperate islands of the region.

King Penguins form gigantic colonies when they come in to shore during the mating season. One colony at South Georgian Island is estimated to have over 200,000 birds.

 

King Penguins are “serially monogamous” – they mate with only one mate per season, working with their mate to hatch the egg and care for the chick. However, unlike some other species of penguin, they’re not so likely to return to the same mate the next year – about 70% will find a new mate the following season.

King penguins are one of the few birds that do not build nests, eggs are incubated under the belly on top of their feet.

It takes 54 days for the eggs to hatch, during which time males and females take shifts incubating them.

 

 

After hatching, parental duties continue to be equally shared by both male and female, with one staying on land to brood the chick while the other goes in search of food at sea.

When the chick reaches around six weeks old, it joins a group of chicks known as a creche, thus allowing both parents to go foraging at the same time, in order to bring back enough food for the voracious offspring.

 

The creche provides the woolly chicks with protection from predators, as well as the benefit of collective warmth.

The chick grows a warm brown fluffy down of feathers. They also grow a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm during the winter months ahead.

The chicks huddle in their creches during the winter months while the parents occasionally come onshore to feed them. In the spring the parents come back and start feeding the chicks again.

At this time, the chicks starts to grow their adult feathers and are ready to go off on their own. Raising a King penguin chick usually takes 10 to 13 months.

Once a young King Penguin does leave its colony it will not return until at least 3 years later when it’s able to mate.

At sea, the key predators of King penguins are the leopard seals and killer whales who wait beneath the surface near the shore for unsuspecting birds.

Some king penguin colonies were completed exterminated. This occurred as a result of hunting in the 19th and 20th Centuries. People hunted the king penguins for their skin, oil, blubber and eggs.

King penguins have legal protection from hunting and the collection of their eggs. According to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, it is illegal to harm or interfere with any penguin or its eggs.

Today, the king penguin populations in the sub-Antarctic Oceans appear to be thriving and better still increasing in numbers with more than two million breeding pairs of king penguins found around the freezing waters.

Like almost all animals, king penguins ordinarily have round pupils in their eyes. However, this all changes when their pupils constrict. Of all king penguin facts, one of the most bizarre is that, when constricteda king penguin’s pupils are actually square in shape.

Source credit:

This article is kindly Provided By The Simon’s Town Historical Society

The part which Simon’s Town has played in maritime strategy is inseparable from that of the Cape of Good Hope and South Africa as a whole.

The meeting point of the two great oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian, is a key point in world naval strategy: it is a focal point of maritime trade between East and West.

Inevitably if followed that the two good anchorages, Table Bay and Simon’s Bay, became important havens for shipping. The dangers of the Table Bay anchorage during the winter months were quickly and forcibly brought to the notice of seafarers, but were tolerated when the callers were few. As ships began to frequent Table Bay in increasing numbers at all seasons of the year the incidence of ship-wrecks during the winter became greater than could be borne with equanimity.

Simon van der Stel Names The Bay

The False Bay side of the Cape Peninsula, sheltered from the violent northwest gales, was the obvious alternative, and Simon’s Bay was selected by Simon van der Stel himself as the safest anchorage. For many years to come there were no facilities for visiting ships and communications with Cape Town were exceedingly difficult. In spite of the greater safety in winter, captains of ships tended to avoid caling there whenever possible, preferring to risk the greater danger of Table Bay in order to enjoy the superior amenities of Cape Town.

France Controls The Cape

In 1650 the Dutch East India company decreed that a permanent settlement should be established at the Cape solely as a post for the replenishment of the Company’s vessels on the passage to and from the East Indies. At no time was it ever intended to gain any milirary advantage for which there was no necessity at that period.

The Cape of Good Hope only began to assume importance as a strategic point in the military sense with the increasing rivalry between France and Great Britain in the latter half of the eighteenth century.

In 1780 when Holland entered the War of America Independence in alliance with France and Spain against Great Britain, the British Government had become aware what a menace the Cape of Good Hope in the hands of an enemy could be to its trade with India. It was soon decided that an attempt must be made to capture the Cape to deny its use to the enemy.

The first attempt under Commodore Johnstone suffered so many delays that the French were able to forestall him and reinforce the defences too strongly to admit of successful attack.

During the next decade these dilatory methods cost Great Britain dear. With the Cape under their control the French were enabled greatly to increase their depredations on the British ships trading between India and Europe.

Relief only came with the termination of hostilities when the French troops returned to Europe. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1793 the Directors of the East India Company were not unnaturally nervous about the consequences of the Cape once again falling into the hands of the French. The occupation of Holland by the Revolutionary armies in the winter of 1794/5 brought matters to a head and called for action.

Two British Occupations

The British Admiralty lost no time in preparing an expedition for the occupation of the Cape, which object was successfully accomplished in 1795. The Netherlands government (in its new republican form) at last realised that an occupation of the Cape by a hostile power posed a very real threat to communications with Batavia.

With a well-situated base to work from the ships of the Royal Navy were able to establish an effective blockade of Mauritius which drastically restricted the depredations of the French commerce-raiding frigates.

During negotiations for peace in this year, the possession of the Cape became one of the most forceful bargaining points. Preliminary Articles of peace were not signed until 1801, and as one of the conditions, the short-sighted government of Addington agreed to restore the Cape to the Dutch. When the Treaty of Peace was signed in 1802, restoration of the Cape to its former owners was no longer possible as the Dutch East India Company had gone bankrupt in 1799. Its successor, the Batavian Republic, became the new owner of the Cape instead.

News of the terms of the Treaty did not reach the Cape until August 1802 and for various reasons the British evacuation was not completed until March 1803. The evacuating squadron had not reached England before war broke out again, but preparations for the re-occupation of the Cape were not put in hand until a new government under William Pitt came to power. In January 1806 a force too strong for the weak Batavian forces to withstand took possession of the Cape once more for Britain.

Within two or three months of the capture of the Cape all effective threats to the supremacy of the Royal Navy in southern waters were ended and their ships were again able to establish a blockade of the French islands, although it was not always possible to make the blockade entirely effective. The only complete solution of the problem was the capture of the islands, and measures to this end were put in hand. In 1810 Mauritius and Bourbon were captured and the fall of Tamatave in Madagascar in 1811 left the French without a single colonial possession. As a consequence there was little left for the ships of the Royal Navy to do in Cape waters and their number was soon reduced.

The Royal Navy Base Moves To Simon’s Town

The naval authorities now had leisure to give some time and attention to the consolidation of the base facilities. The removal of the whole naval establishment from Table Bay to Simon’s Bayand vice versa at six-monthly intervals was manifestly inconvenient and costly. It had furthermore become clear to the experienced seamen of the Royal Navy that Simon’s Bay provided a safe anchorage at all seasons, which Table Bay did not. The Commander-in-Chief of the Cape Station was emphatically in favour of removal of the principal base of the Royal Navy to Simon’s Bay and this was immediately accepted. The necessary buildings were completed in 1814.

It was perhaps fortunate that this was accomplished before peace was declared in 1814, as it is doubtful whether the considerable expenditure would have been authorised in peace-time!

A Period Of Peace

Valuable as Simon’s Town had been in wartime, in the years of peace which followed it proved to be quite invaluable. The first important task laid on the ships of the Cape of Good Hope Station was the guardianship of Napoleon Bonaparte during the years of his detention on St Helena. With his death in 1821 the Simon’s Town Dockyard establishment was drastically reduced. A nucleus of trained staff remained to cater for the ships which continued to call on their voyages to and from the East. There were still a few ships on the Cape Station, including those commanded by the illustrious surveyors who in the 1820’s carried out the survey of the coast of Southern Africa.

Simon’s Town was their secure base to which they returned for refitting and recuperation. Much the same consideration applied to the small vessels employed in the suppression of the slave trade. In addition the cargoes of slaves in the captured slave ships, which could number up to seven hundred or more, were landed and housed in any accommodation available pending their allocation as indentured apprentices.

Coastal Skirmishes

Nearer at home, the ships of the Royal Navy were in constant demand for the transport of troops and their equipment to the frontier during the many Kaffir Wars of the nineteenth century. Algoa Bay, the Kowie and the Buffalo Rivers and Waterloo Bay provided convenient disembarkation points and each was provided with a resident harbour master and boats crew. All had to be supplied from the main base at Simon’s Town. It was on short coastal journeys such as these that steam driven vessels proved most suitable. For all ocean voyages sail remained the normal means of propulsion until the end of the century.

Steamships And The Dockyard
It was in the middle of the nineteenth century that improvement in steam propulsion began to make a real impact on the Cape Station and purely sailing vessels unaided by auxilliary steam power were becoming the exception rather than the rule. The installations in the Dockyard, which had not been altered in any way since 1814, proved quite inadequate to deal with the complexities of steam engines. The increasing use of iron in the construction of ships as well as their very size posed new problems in maintenance. Considerable extensions and reconstruction took place during the 1850’s and 60’s.

With the advent of reliable steam engines the smaller vessels were able to approach close in to the shallow bars of the east coast rivers in comparative safety. These little ships found themselves much in demand by missionaries and explorers. Such occasions also offered convenient opportunities for “showing the flag” in places not usually visited by ships of any kind and to act as a warning to any potential slave trader that the Navy’s arm was longer than ever.

The Anglo-Boer War
Throughout the Anglo-Boer War, Simon’s Town and Cape Town were the principal ports through which passed the reinforcements of men, supplies and equipment for the British Army. Without these the few British troops would have been overwhelmed by the superior numbers of the Boer forces in the first few months of the war. As it was the British were able to maintain an uninterrupted flow of men and ammunition from the United Kingdom and other parts of the British Empire, while the Royal Navy’s command of the oceans virtually prohibited all similar supplies reaching the Transvaal and Free State Republics. There can be little doubt also that it was only the healthy respect for the Royal Navy which prevented Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany from intervening on behalf of the Republics.

East Dockyard Opened
In the closing stages of the nineteenth century the resources of the Simon’s Town Dockyard were once again proving inadequate for the needs of the larger steamships, but with the opening of the East Dockyard and Dry Dock in 1910 Simon’s Town once again became equipped to meet every requirement of any ship of the Royal Navy. It was not long before these facilities were urgently needed: In 1914 Great Britain and Germany were at war.

Simon’s Town During World War I
The part which Simon’s Town and the ships of the Africa Station were called upon to play in this war differed in no respect from the part it had played in earlier wars. These tasks were the elimination of all enemy ships, especially commerce raiders, from the waters around the southern end of Africa and the elimination of all the enemy bases within its sphere.At the outbreak of war there was a number of German warships at large in all the oceans of the world; these included the Emden, the Koningsberg and Admiral von Spee’s powerful squadron believed to be in the South Pacific. Until these ships were accounted for no protracted expedition by sea against the German colonies could be contemplated without a powerful escort of warships. The Emden was destroyed at Keeling Island, the Koningsberg in the Rufji River and von Spee’s squadron at the Falkland Islands. With all hostile warships satisfactorily disposed of, operations against the two German colonies of South West Africa and Tanganyika could now go ahead.

For the remainder of the war Simon’s Town spent a humdrum but busy and essential existence as a refuelling and refitting base for the escorts of the numerous troop convoys passing between Europe and Australasia, India and the Far East. The most destruction in South African waters was done by the mine fields laid by commerce raiders off Dassen Island and Cape Agulhas.

Simon’s Town During World War II

Simon’s Town activity followed much the same pattern in the Second World War as it did in the First. In the early stages of the war it was the assembly base for the ships engaged in the rounding up of the few German ships in the southern oceans, the most important of which was the Graf Spee. There followed other heavily armed raiders disguised as merchant ships, including the Atlantis which laid mines off Cape Agulhas and elsewhere. They operated with considerable success but were eventually intercepted and sunk by ships based at Simon’s Town.

With the closing of the Mediterranean all traffic between Europe and the East had to be routed around the Cape as in former days. Although the merchant ships put into Cape Town for replenishment only Simon’s Town was capable of dealing with the special requirements of the warships. The entry of Japan into the war and their swift conquest of Malaysia and the East Indies intensified the vital role which Simon’s Town had to play.

In the latter stages of the war, with the reopening of the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, Simon’s Town lost much of its importance as a staging post. By this time, however, the war in the southern oceans was virtually over and Simon’s Town’s task was finished for the time being. It had done its task and done it well.

Postwar Simon’s Town

After the cessation of hostilities the tempo of naval activities slackened off. Following negotiations between the South African Minister of Defence and the British Government the Dockyard was handed over to the South African Navy in 1957. (The Union Jack that was lowered at the formal hand-over is now in the Historical Society’s rooms).

Ten years later, in 1967, Simon’s Town was proclaimed a White Group Area and over the next few years the coloured people, whose family ties sometimes went back to the very early days of the Town’s growth, were obliged to move away. Their houses in and behind the Town fell into disrepair and a lot of them were eventually bullozed flat: thus was part of Simon’s Town’s quaint attraction lost. The Historical Society’s efforts in preventing such destruction were to no avail, yet at the same time “Studland”, Admiralty House, St Francis Church, “Ibeka”, Palace Barracks and the Martello Tower were all proclaimed National Monuments.

In 1975 the face of the Town again started to undergo change when extensions to the Dockyard were started: a large area of land was reclaimed at Jaffa’s Beach and the harbour walls were extended further to sea to form a new and larger Tidal Basin.

Source Credit: www.simonstown.com

South Africa may be known for its Big Five, but the marine wildlife is just as impressive! Every year, southern right whales take a vacation in Cape waters, treating Cape Town locals to a display of breaching, fluking, spouting, and spyhopping.
Here’s what you need to know:

What you can expect to see

Of the whale species seen in the waters around the Cape, southern right whales are the most common. However, you might also get a chance to see humpback whales and Bryde’s whales.

Southern right whales: Long before they became a protected species in 1935, southern right whales were considered the ‘right whales’ to hunt because of their slow swimming speeds and the fact that their carcasses float. Their slow speeds also make them the ‘right’ whales to watch!

Southern right whales can be distinguished by the callosities (rough patches of skin covered in barnacles) on their heads as well as their long arching mouths and characteristic double blowhole. They average 15m in length and can weigh a whopping 60 tons! The whales migrate annually from Antarctica to the coast around Cape Town to calve their offspring. They usually arrive in June and stay until November.

Humpback whales: Humpback whales, with their obvious humps, knobbly heads, and long pectoral fins, can also be seen in Cape waters during their migration from the polar regions to Mozambique and Madagascar where they breed and give birth.  You are most likely to catch a glimpse of them between May and November. A friendly species, humpback whales can sometimes be seen interacting with southern right whales and bottlenose dolphins.

Bryde’s whales: Although they are the only species of whale that is present in South African waters all year round, Bryde’s whales can be tricky to spot because they tend to dive for long periods of time before resurfacing only briefly. Named after a Norwegian consul who helped set up the first whaling station in Durban, these whales haven’t received much attention from scientists… mostly because they are difficult to find! You are most likely to spot these shy whales between the West Coast and Port Elizabeth. Look out for a large, sleek, dark grey body with white on the underside, and three ridges near the blowhole.

whale_watching_in_cape_town (2)

Best places to watch the whales

False Bay: If you don’t feel like travelling far, there are a few great whale-watching spots near the city of Cape Town. Opt for the higher vantage points along the False Bay coastline such as Cape Point, Boyes Drive between St James and Kalk Bay, and Clarence Drive between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els. During the whale-watching season, you might even be lucky enough to spot them close up if you take the train trip from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town.

Hermanus: Rated as one of the top 12 whale-watching locations in the world by the World Wildlife Fund, Hermanus offers some fine land-based viewing opportunities because the whales often come within metres of the shoreline. There are viewing terraces at the Old Harbour, and Gearings Point is a popular spot. During the whale watching season, a Whale Crier alerts watchers to the presence of whales by blowing on a kelp horn. To fully immerse yourself in the whale experience, visit Hermanus during the first week of October when the seaside town hosts an annual whale festival—a celebration of all things cetacean.

Cape Agulhus: Up to 50 pairs of southern right cows and calves have been known to frolic in the ocean near the southernmost tip of Africa. The Whale Trail, a five-day hike along the cliffs, dunes, and beaches, gives you a wonderful opportunity to view these mighty mammals and their offspring.

Whale_watching_in_cape_town

Getting up close and personal

While the Cape coastline offers many fantastic land-based viewing opportunities, it is an entirely different experience to get close to these magnificent creatures in the ocean.

Dyer Island Cruises: Departing from Kleinbaai harbour near Gaansbaai, this tour operator offers cruises to Dyer Island, which is located 8km from the shore. During the two-hour trip, you will see a variety of bird species, including African Penguins, as well as Cape fur seals. The guides know where all the best whale-viewing spots are and have even catalogued seeing the same whales year after year! The peak season is from July to December, and southern right whales are pretty much guaranteed between August and November.

Website:www.whalewatchsa.com

Simon’s Town Boat Company Your best bet, if you are hoping to do some boat-based whale watching in False Bay, is the Simon’s Town Boat Company. The whale tours are operated by Ocean View Masiphumelele Fishing and depart daily from Simon’s Town at 10:30am and 2pm. Booking is advised.

Website:www.boatcompany.co.za

Source: capetowntravel

Are you an adrenaline junkie?

Great white sharks are the apex predators of our oceans and Cape Town is one of the shark cage diving capitals of the world. Sharks are iconic and magnificent creatures. Experience a great white shark up close and personal with a shark diving or shark viewing tour (you don’t have to get in the cage!) and you do not need a scuba diving certificate to shark cage dive.

Great White Shark Cage Diving takes place from April to September in False Bay (departs from Simon’s Town) and all year round from Gansbaai (2 hours from Cape Town).

An alternative is to cage dive with Mako and Blue sharks off Cape Point .

2 Mei 2017

Credit: Cape Point Route – https://goo.gl/HY4Ley 

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