Following a report that killer whales were sighted at Miller’s Point earlier in the morning, we couldn’t resist heading out in search of them, albeit 2 hours later. The area where they were spotted is one of their favourite “7 gill bistros”, but we also know from previous experience that they generally head south from there, stopping off at a few other potential prey areas before they leave the bay.

KILLER WHALES OFF THE SOUTH AFRICAN COAST

I saw my first group of killer whales near Bird Island in Algoa Bay on the 20th February 1999. It was a group of four (three adults and a calf) spotted near a Bryde’s whale. They had captured a baby bottlenose dolphin and were “flicking” it to each other using their large flippers. The cries of the baby dolphin were quite unnerving but are one of the cruel things in nature that are necessary for a top predator’s survival. In this case the whales were honing their skills just like when a cat plays with a mouse. Since then I have spotted them on numerous occasions from my whale watching boat and from the shore, but never armed with a good camera and being treated to such a show as on January the 13th.

The photo gallery above depicts various forms of behaviour. There is some of the male killer whale “spy hopping”. They can change the shape of the lens in the eye which gives them excellent vision both in and out of the water. This is used to great effect when knocking seals off ice floes. They would suddenly pop out the water next to the boat and have a good look at who we were and what we were doing. Then there is one of the male “tail slapping” which may be a form of aggression to warn intruders to keep away from its calf, but scientists don’t know for sure what it means. They also seem to use their flukes to soften up their prey for consumption. There are photos of the female breaching which could be some form of communications to the other members of the pod, or may be simply for fun.

There are photos of two kinds of barnacles, one on the male’s dorsal fin and others on the male and female’s flukes and flippers. According to Professor Peter Best, the round white one on the adult male fin is a Coronula sp. (whale barnacle), typical of humpback whales amongst others. It is partially embedded in the skin which means that it won’t easily be dislodged by predators, or the breaching of the whale, and it feeds by passively filtering food from the current generated as the whale swims. The floppy black ones on or near the trailing edge are probably Xenobalanus sp., found on a large number of cetaceans. Both pose no problem for the whale, but if they are noted as being excessive in number it may be indicative of an animal swimming somewhat slower than normal (i.e. possibly debilitated). Barnacles on fins and tails are far more common in warmer waters than they are in colder waters. So, we generally assume that animals we see here with barnacles, Xenobalanus in particular, have probably come down from warmer waters, maybe Natal, or even from the Agulhas current, but either way, the barnacles don’t tend to last too long in colder Southern Ocean waters. Have a look at the photo showing the shape of the whales’ dorsal fins and the grey saddle just behind the dorsal fin. Scientists use the notches and unique markings on the fins and saddles to identify individual animals.

Killer whales are the largest member of the dolphin family. When any cetacean (group name for whales, dolphins and porpoises) attains more than four metres it becomes known as a whale (with the exception of the dwarf and pygmy sperm whales). Like many cetaceans these animals are known by two names. The name Orca is derived from Orcus, the Roman god of the underworld who tortured wrongdoers in the afterlife. The term killer whale probably comes from the fact that they do kill whales and were often seen feeding on dead whales during the days of whaling.

These whales are the top predators in the marine ecosystem. Their diet consists of almost everything in the sea as well as some animals out of it. Animals eaten or harassed include twenty species of cetaceans, fourteen species of seals and their kin, dugongs, sea otters, eleven species of bony fish, twelve species of elasmobranch fish (sharks and rays), birds, turtles, squid and even deer and moose! There are several different types of killer whales across the globe, one of the main differences between them being in their diet. Some eat mostly dolphins or seals or large whales, others eat only bony fish or sharks and rays, while others still eat a combination of two or more of these prey items.

The more specialised you become at hunting one kind of prey only, the more successful you will be as a predator. While fish-eating killer whales hunt in bigger pods and may, like dolphins, use echo-location to find their prey, it is very unlikely in the case of mammal-eating killer whales, which hunt in very small pods. They normally hunt silently and probably detect prey by listening for the sounds they are making or using visual cues. Females can live to a maximum of 90 years while males seldom reach more than 60 years of age.

Killer whales are no doubt the world’s most widely distributed mammal, stretching from the Arctic to the Antarctic, in the tropics and from both coastal and oceanic waters. They do appear to be more abundant in cooler waters. Killer whales can be seen anywhere along the southern African coast. However they tend to be seen more frequently in places of heavy boat traffic like the Cape Peninsula, Plettenberg Bay, Algoa Bay and on the old whaling grounds. This does not mean they do not occur at other locations but just that there are not usually people there to observe them.

In and around Algoa Bay their appearances are unpredictable and normally not more than twice a year, some years failing to arrive at all. We have observed them in any month of the year between Bird Island and Jeffrey’s Bay. An amusing sighting was in 1984 during the local University of Port Elizabeth’s “anything that floats” fundraiser. Students aboard their flimsy rafts were head for the finish line when a group of Orcas arrived making the students gap it off their floating crafts!

Dr Vic Cockcroft who has been studying killer whales since then has only managed to identify seven or so males, which strongly suggests that there are not that many families out there. The last time they were spotted in the Eastern Cape was in May 2011 at the tail end of the “sardine run” off Cape Recife. This was when Raggy Charters hosted the filming of the BBC’s “Earth Flight” about the migration of birds around the world which is to be screened later this year. Watch out for spectacular 3D footage of the sardine run from along our coast.

There have been 785 recorded sightings of killer whales along the South African coastline which seems a lot, but 627 of these observations were from surface long line vessels on the continental drop off on the Agulhas Bank. The other 158 were from sightings by scientists, boat-based whale watching operators, fishermen, skippers and their ilk. Strandings and animals taken by the whale industry make up the balance. As a result of the unpredictability of killer whale sightings along our shore, data are only collected on an ad hoc basis, if and when researchers encounter them at sea or, as is more often the case, via members of the public, fishermen and tourist operators who are often armed with good quality camera equipment, GPS’ etc. Meredith Thornton from the Marine Mammal Institute is currently collating all killer whale photographs and associated sighting information from all interested parties in order to build a photographic catalogue for South Africa.

There are at least nine main types of killer whales in the world, two in the North Atlantic, three in the North Pacific and four in the Southern Hemisphere and the list is growing! There are the so-called resident pods which feed mainly on fish and occur in a wide range of group sizes ranging from three to about 60 animals. Then there are the mammal-eating ones that are called transients. They occur in much smaller groups of between one and four animals although occasionally up to fifteen. These are the ones that I have been seeing along our coastline over the last twenty years. They seem to use a hunting method called passive sonar where they listen out for sounds made by other cetaceans and then use ambush tactics, communicating with each other once a kill has been made. This seemed to be the case on 27th January 2003 when we observed two adult female killer whales and a calf creeping up on 400 bottlenose dolphins cowering away in a sheltered bay at St Croix Island in Algoa Bay.

In the Southern Ocean, recent observations have revealed the possible existence of four types of killer whales. In all types the dorsal fin continues to grow in both sexes but with a delphinid shape, in females and juvenile males. In adult males the fin not only gets bigger but becomes more triangular in shape and can attain 1.8 metres in height. In males up to six metres the dorsal fin is about 10% of the body length while in males over 6 metres it is on average 18% of the body length. On the killer whale we observed the fin actually wobbled when the animal surfaced, and because it is not supported by bone or cartilage it can curl over to one side as often observed on captive animals. Males also have larger flippers and tail flukes than females as can be seen in the attached photos. Killer whales can often be confused with humpback whales as the underside of their tail flukes is sometimes also black and white like those of killer whales. Also, when a southern right whale lies on its side its tail often resembles the dorsal fin of a killer whale.

Type A is the killer whale that mainly frequents our shores. There is increasing evidence of a second type A, which is smaller and so far unnamed, which has also been observed here. The largest males are almost nine metres long while the females reach almost eight metres. Most females seldom reach seven metres while 50% of males do. Males can weigh up to five and a half tones while females are smaller. They have a moderately sized white eye-patch. Around the Antarctic they prey mainly on minke whales. In our waters they prey predominantly on dolphins (I have observed them eating both common and bottlenose). Although they do prey on Cape fur seals they do so surprisingly infrequently considering that we have over two million of them in South Africa and Namibia. They also take penguins, cormorants and white-chinned petrels. There have been many reports of killer whales taking hooked tuna off commercial long lines on the Agulhas bank to such an extent that fishermen leave the area. Retaliatory actions by frustrated fishermen include shooting or the throwing of “thunder flashes”. There have also been reported attacks on southern right, humpback and fin whales. When attacking southern rights the killer whales try to split up the group or cow and calf pair while the whales try to group as close as possible together. Once the animals are killed the killer whales usually only eat the tongues which seems like a delicacy to them. In Plettenberg Bay in 2002 a male killer whale from a group of three killed a four metre great white shark. The male and female then came and displayed it to the boat based whale watching boat!

The group size of Killer Whales from the 627 sightings by long line vessels showed that all except one was of up to 13 animals. The exception was a group of twenty. In 93% of the observations the group size was up to six animals, the average being two. Other datasets shows 81% of the groups being up to six animals, the rest up to ten with an average of four and a half. Boat based whale watching operators reported between one and two calves present in ten of the 15 sightings. I have seen calves in all of my sightings although they are sometimes difficult to distinguish at first.

Type B inhabits inshore waters around the Antarctic and is closely associated with continental pack ice. The eye patch is twice as large as type A and it has a grey cape on the body behind the dorsal fin. They prey mainly on seals but also on minke and humpback whales.

Type C also inhabits inshore pack ice in the Antarctic. The eye patch is diagonal and slopes down at the front. They are smaller than type A, the males attaining six metres and the females slightly less. They feed mainly on fish.

The Antarctic population was estimated at about 80 000 individuals in the 1980s. They have not been heavily exploited by whalers in the past. From 1935 until 1979 on average 26 were killed every year. During 1979-80 Soviet whaling ships killed 916 animals in the Southern Hemisphere. South Africa is not blameless however as between 1971 and 1975, 36 killer whales were taken at the Durban whale station.

Credit Source: Simon’s Town Boat Company

Credit Source: www.raggychartes.co.za

 

Book your accommodation now for the annual Penguin Festival in Simon’s Town on Saturday, 10 November, to celebrate African Penguin Awareness Day!

Get 10% discount on Bed & Breakfast: give reference – “Penguin Festival” to claim.

From kids and foodies to birders and conservationists, there’s something for everyone.

General admission is FREE and entry into the Kids’ Zone is R50.

This special day is dedicated to raising worldwide awareness about the plight of the endangered African penguin, the only penguin endemic to the African continent. All proceeds go to SANCCOB’s year-round African penguin conservation work.

More information: www.sanccob.co.za

More about the African Penguin:

African Penguin

Spheniscus demersus

African penguinWhen you think of penguins, you may picture them surrounded by snow and ice. However, there is one species of penguins that is acclimated to warmer climates. African penguins live in colonies on the coast and islands of southern Africa.

Also called jackass penguins, they make donkey-like braying sounds to communicate. They can dive under water for up to 2.5 minutes while trying to catch small fish such as anchovies and sardines. They may also eat squid and crustaceans.

The African penguin averages about 60 cm (2 ft.) tall and weighs up to 3.6 kg (8 lb.). Their short tails and flipper-like wings that help them navigate in the water, while their webbed feet help propel them.

To keep dry and insulated in cold water, African penguins are covered in dense, water-proof feathers. These feathers are white on the belly and black on the back, which aids in camouflage. Their white belly will blend with the light when predators look up at them from below, and their black backs meld with the darker seas when predators look down on them from above.

African penguins breed within their colonies; they do not travel to give birth. The penguins nest in burrows they dig out of their own excrement, called guano, or in areas under boulders or bushes. Recent removal of the guano for fertilizer has forced the penguins to change their habits and nest primarily under bushes and boulders. Their nests protect eggs and chicks from the sun and from predators like cats and seagulls. Eggs are laid in pairs and both parents help incubate them. Both parents also feed the newly-born chicks. After 2-4 years, the chicks will mature and lay their own eggs.

African penguins

Conservation Status

African penguins can live for an average of 10-15 years, however many do not reach their full life span, and populations have been steadily decreasing. The loss of nesting places due to guano removal has contributed to the population decline as well as a decrease of food due to overfishing and pollution. As such, African penguins are now considered endangered by IUCN’s Red List. This means there is a high risk they may become extinct.

What You Can Do to Help

If you would like to help the African penguin, you can volunteer, donate, or adopt a penguin through the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds.

African Penguin Distribution

African penguin distribution map

African penguins live in colonies on the coast and islands of southern Africa.

Source credit: animalfactguide.com

One of South Africa’s oldest towns and Naval base, Simon’s Town (sometimes misspelt as Simons Town or Simonstown) is a picturesque and historical town where many happy memories are waiting to be made just 35km outside Cape Town. From the Toy and Navy museums to the eateries and shops, here’s how you should plan your day in Simon’s Town.

Start the day with a walk and a bite to eat, to prepare for the day ahead.

Do the audio tour
Start the day with an audio tour to get a sense of the lay of the land. The tour starts atthe station, takes in the “historic mile”, and ends in the village centre where all activities are based. The tour is narrated by the local author Maureen Miller. At under R30 ($2), this trip is super affordable.

Download the VoiceMap app and the Simon’s Town Tour

Coffee, pastries and something sweet
The audio tour ends within ambling distance of two of our favourite places to grab a bite. The Sweetest Thing offers an exceptional array of mouth-watering cakes, pastries, pies and sweet treats that are proudly local. Stop by Monocle & Mermaid for a hot cup of coffee, pastries or wrap and browse their local art and music on sale while soaking up their charming décor.

Penguin watching
Visiting the African Penguin colony at Boulder’s Beach is high on everyone’s must-see list and you simply can’t leave without saying hello to our monochromatic friends. Boulders is a part of the South African National Parks and all along the penguin viewing path you’ll be able to see penguins in their natural habitat. At Foxy Beach you can also have a swim with the penguins!

Credit: capetown.travel

 

3 Okt 2017
Celebrate African Penguin Awareness Day at our 15th annual Penguin Festival in collaboration with SANParks (Table Mountain National Park).

Certain to appeal to everyone from kids and foodies to birders and conservationists, the event kicks off at 10h00 on Seaforth Beach with a release of rehabilitated African penguins. Witnessing the release of penguins back to the wild is a heart-warming and exclusive opportunity for festival guests.

What’s even more rewarding is knowing that it is your support that makes our vital African penguin conservation work possible.
After the penguin release, the festival continues at the Simon’s Town Navy Sports Fields, next to Seaforth Beach, with:
•live music
•kids’ activities (mini rides, inflatable obstacle course, face-painting, jumping castle, climbing wall)
•an edutainment marquee
•marine conservation exhibitions
•environmental talks
•delicious food
•craft beer & wine tasting

All proceeds go to SANCCOB’s African penguin conservation work. General admission is free, and entry into the Kids’ Zone is R50 per person. Please park at the Seaforth Beach parking area.

For more information, contact us on 021 557 6155 or our co-hosts, SANParks, on 021 786 2329.

20 Julie 2017 1

Scientific Facts

Scientific Name: Spheniscus Demersus
spheniscus = Greek, small wedge (their formation when swimming)
demersus = Latin, plunging
Class: Aves
Average Statistics: Weight – 2,1 To 3,7 kilograms (4.63 To 8.16 pounds)
Height – 50 cm (19.7 inches)

Description

Penguins are flightless, aquatic birds, which live in the southern oceans in climates as varied as Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands on the equator. There are seventeen species in all but the African Penguin is the only one to inhabit the African continent and its inshore islands. It used to be known as the Jackass Penguin, on account of the braying sounds which it makes on land, but the name ‘African Penguin’ has now been adopted to distinguish it from the Jackass Penguin found in South America, which is slightly different in appearance and behaviour. Another name that is occasionally used is the Blackfooted Penguin. The closest relatives of the African penguin are, in fact, the Humboldt and Magellanic penguins of South America and the Galapagos penguins of the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Penguins are ancient birds, probably evolving about 65 million years ago, at the time that dinosaurs became extinct. Since penguins are well adapted to the cold, the South American and African penguins feel the heat on land and have evolved various ways to cope with the sun. African penguins have a black stripe curving across the top of the chest. They are insulated by air trapped between their feathers. This makes the birds extremely vulnerable when they are moulting, which they do annually, and for this period of about three weeks (at Boulders about November) they are land-bound, getting thinner and more bedraggled until the moulting process is completed. Before moulting they eat hugely and put on about 30% more fat. Moulting takes about three weeks, during which their weight almost halves. Although the African penguins are quaintly clumsy on land, and ungraceful emerging from the water, in the sea they are extremely skilful swimmers, reputedly reaching speeds of 24 kilometres (15 miles) per hour. Rather than using their feet to swim, as many aquatic birds do, they use their wings that have been modified to form extremely efficient flippers. Their webbed feet are used mainly when swimming on the surface of the water. Their feathers have become very small and waterproofed, overlapping to provide better insulation. The African and South American penguins have shorter feathers than the Antarctic birds, since they do not face such great cold. Penguins also have heavier bones than most birds to enable them to dive. African penguins live an average of 10 to 11 years but sometimes reach as much as 24 years.

Range & Habitat 

African penguins inhabit twenty-seven sites. Most are on inshore islands, of which the best known is Robben Island. There are only three of them on the mainland sites. The largest existing colony is on St Croix island near Port Elizabeth, with about 50 000 birds. Dassen Island off Yzerfontein, once home to over a million penguins, now has about 30 000, while Dyer Island near Gansbaai has about 20 000. The most remarkable of the mainland colonies is Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town with over 2500 birds.

Diet & Eating Habits 

African penguins feed mainly on small pelagic fish (fish which swim on the upper layers of the open ocean) like pilchards, anchovies, horse mackerel and herrings. Competition with commercial fishing has forced them to adapt their diet. They now also eat squid and small crustaceans as well. Since penguins are capable of diving considerable depths, up to 35 metres, remaining under water for 1½ minutes, they can reach fish that other birds cannot. Sometimes they travel considerable distances to feed, up to 30-70 kilometres, although they have been known to travel over 200 kilometres. Particularly when they are feeding demanding older chicks, penguins will spend much of their days at sea feeding. On average a penguin will eat about 300 g of fish a day, although this will increase to over 1 kg before moulting or when feeding older chicks.

Reproduction

There is little distinction between male and female African penguins, although the male is slightly larger and has a longer bill than the female. Penguins are usually about 4 years old when they begin breeding. African penguins will remain with a single partner for many years, producing one or two eggs a year. They only separate normally if breeding has failed for some reason. They can breed at any time of the year, but the Boulders population tends to breed in March to May. The incubation period lasts forty days, and the fledging period from 60 to 130 days. Young penguins have blue-grey backs and white fronts, without the black and white markings of their parents. Originally the African penguin nested in guano (hardened bird droppings, in the past several metres thick) but when this was mined for fertiliser in the nineteenth century they were forced to adapt to other conditions. Now they nest in crude shallow burrows dug out of the sand or under beach vegetation. The main reason for digging burrows is to protect the eggs and chicks from the heat of the sun. Antarctic penguins do not do this. Penguins prefer to return to the same nesting site every year and will persevere most determinedly to get back to their old nests. At Boulders they have been known to climb over the fence that was erected to prevent them from spreading inland. Incubation of the eggs lasts for about forty days. When the babies hatch, they are already covered in a layer of gray fluffy feathers which provide them with insulation and waterproofing. The parents share the nesting and feeding duties. While one partner stays behind, without food or water, for about two and a half days, the hunting partner will swim as much as ten miles out to sea to find tasty food. The babies are usually fed in the late afternoon. The parents regurgitate partially-digested fish into their mouths. Parents continue to keep close watch on their chicks for about a month and the chicks leave the nest after about two months. This can take much longer, however, if the parents have not been able to supply them with enough food. Going to sea is the most hazardous time of a fledgling’s life – only about half the birds that go out for the first time return home. At this stage remain at sea for many months and only return home for their first moult. Young penguins continue to stay out at sea for long periods, sometimes travelling great distances. Only in their 3rd to 4th years do they come back to their homes to mate for the first time. At Boulders the penguins are relatively safe although cats and dogs have attacked them. One of the greatest problems now is that they like to stand under warm cars and several have been run over.

The Boulders Colony 

In 1983 a pair of African penguins were spotted on Foxy Beach at Boulders and in 1985 they began to lay. Since then the colony has grown rapidly, increasing initially at about 60% a year. By 1997 there were 2350 adult birds. Such a quick growth of the colony was the result of immigration, particularly from Dyer Island, as well as by reproduction. Birds have probably come to False Bay because of the good fishing available since commercial purse seine fishing has been banned in the Bay. Although Simon’s Town is very proud of its penguins, nearby residents suffered badly as the birds invaded their gardens, destroyed the undergrowth and were generally very noisy and messy. The great increase in tourists has also been a problem. As a result, the area has now been taken over by Cape Peninsula National Park, the birds have been restrained from wandering inland by a fence, board walks and an information room have all been established. Boulders still remains the only place in the world where one can actually swim amongst the penguins as they have continued to invade more beaches. They are remarkably untroubled by people but one should avoid harassing them by getting too close or chasing them. Beware!! They have a vicious bite.

The Calendar Of “Penguin Activities” For Boulders

January : Juveniles moulting and adults feeding up for breeding season.
February To August : Breeding season.
September To October : Penguins at sea, feeding up for moulting.
November To December : Moulting season.

Conservation

Because they live so far north, and in a relatively accessible region, African penguins have been particularly vulnerable to human depredation. From the time of time of the first Dutch settlement at the Cape in 1652 penguins were an invaluable addition to the settlers’ food supply. Penguin eggs have also been regarded as a delicacy and were sold and eaten well into the twentieth century. In more recent times the decline in food supply has forced penguins to adapt their eating habits. Seals, which used to share the same small fish, now increasingly prey on the penguins instead. Oil spills from tankers are also a hazard since the oil clinging to their feathers affects their insulation. As a result of all this, there has been a serious reduction in their numbers, and African penguins are now regarded as an endangered species. There were several million African penguins in the nineteenth century. In 1930 there were still over a million birds but there are now only about 179 000 left. All the penguin breeding sites are now protected. At Betty’s Bay, another mainland site, a fence has been erected to prevent disturbance from people and predators. This colony has now grown to about 100 pairs. Nevertheless, threats to their safety remain.

Organisations Concerned With The Preservation Of The African Penguin

SANCCOB

(the Southern African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) was formed about twenty years ago to rescue penguins from oil spills and other disasters. It operates a rescue and rehabilitation centre for injured seabirds near Tableview in Cape Town. SANCCOB is funded solely by membership fees and public donations, and has been scientifically proven to be the most successful sea bird rehabilitation centre in the world. In 1994, when the tanker, the Apollo Sea, was wrecked off the Cape Town coast, about 10 000 birds were oiled. About half of these were saved. Much was learnt from this and other disasters. When another major oil slick threatened the penguins after the bulk ore carrier, Treasure sank off Robben Island in June 2000, an even larger rescue operation was conducted. Over 18 000 oiled penguins were rescued and cleaned. More than 19 000 unoiled penguins were trucked to Port Elizabeth, where they were released. It was hoped that the oil would have dispersed by the time they returned home. They proved to be efficient navigators. Three of the rescued birds, named Percy, Pamela and Peter, had transmitters attached to their backs. All made it home safely, finding their way speedily and with remarkable accuracy.

 

credit: simonstown.com