Happy New Year all! This week, we’re taking a break from the tropical waters of the Seychelles and talking about the awesome oceanic happenings of Walker Bay over the past few weeks. There are many different ways to access our corner of the Atlantic Ocean, and over this festive season I have tried to indulge in as many of these activities as possible. This week’s ocean update will contain tales of working on a whale watching vessel, what happens when you take the plunge and dive below, how you can walk the same stretch of coast a million times and still get lucky and, last but not least, sea kayaking!
Although the southern right whales have left Walker Bay for their feeding grounds, the bay has been a hive of activity! The fish have been favourable over our past few eco tour excursions at Ivanhoe Sea Safaris, so we have been having some incredible dolphin sightings. The common dolphins have been out and about more than any other species and are truly a delight. Common Dolphins are found in tropical and temperate oceans and can form super pods of up to 10 000 animals.
These dolphins love to interact with boats and upon discovering our presence, will rush on over for a closer look and a ride on the boat’s wake. Some of the pods have been scouting pods moving through the bay in search of fish while others have been larger, with our most recent encounter featuring several tiny calves. The little ones stay glued to their mother’s side and give away their newborn status by bearing fetal folds. These ‘folds’ are vertical lines running down the body of the baby caused by time spent very tightly packed in the mother’s stomach. The cow calf pairs are littered within the pod and one has to look closely to catch a glimpse, with the acrobatics of the other adults often outshining the youngest members of the family.
After spending two hours in the sun watching dolphins and our other magnificent mega fauna, there is nothing like cooling down in the Atlantic by taking a snorkel at the De Kelders drip cave. This snorkelling haven is protected from the South-easterly wind and boasts a myriad of life. Every dive presents the forest in a completely different light and with every change, a chance to discover something else in the crevices.
A prominent feature in the forest is the presence of these beautiful orange feathery-looking creatures known as the sinuous sea fan. They line the crevice walls and in between them one might spot the Cape rock crab or a camouflaged klipvis hiding out. Despite the cool waters, there are also purple soft corals to be found here, which add a touch of bright pink to the walls next to iridescent blue baby bait. If one ventures a little deeper out, there is a chance to spot a shy shark swimming along the bottom or, in the case of our last snorkel, a Cape fur seal looking to make a meal of an octopus.
I’ve also had several interactions with these cryptic creatures recently, with the best being the interaction below. This octopus went full crypo as we approached, disguising itself with some kelp and hoping we would pass without too much fuss.
When the wind turns west and the visibility drops in the forest, ocean access becomes a little trickier. During this time, a walk along the cliffs is the best way to get your daily dose of ocean. On a recent cliff walk, I had the sighting of a lifetime when, just after sunset, we came across an otter mother and her two pups. Despite spending most of my life around water and over a decade searching, this was my first ever otter encounter and I could not have been more in awe.
As we spotted the otters, my friends and I lay on our bellies so as not to frighten this family. Cape clawless otters are elusive and can be quite shy, so we kept our distance and peered over a platform to watch as the mom groomed and played with her babies as they lay belly up. It’s always amazing to watch the parental care of mammals, with mom clearly loving this quiet moment of bonding with her two kids. We watched this sweet display until it was almost too dark to see, before heading back home, still in absolute awe.
Sea kayaking is another amazing way to get on to the ocean, and it provides a great perspective because you’re sitting almost at eye level with the water. Just after Christmas, it was decided that we would do a paddle out towards the infamous Danger Point. To get to the lighthouse, one must travel over an extensive kelp forest with the occasional rock revealing itself in the form of a wave break.
As you paddle through the kelp, giant limpets reveal themselves as they grasp lightly to the head of the kelp and try to evade predators. Once one passes the kelp line, this stretch of coast unveils her true beauty, with hundreds of delicate terns littering the sky whilst some of their friends rest on adrift sea bamboo. Blue bottles also drift by, revealing the complex colonies of organisms that make up this dainty-looking predator.
What the past month of exploration has really brought home is that every way we access the ocean brings with it a completely different experience. Whilst the boat tours give one access to Walker Bay’s mega fauna, every activity brings with it the opportunity to encounter species that the others will not allow.
Diving below is an immersive experience into a whole different world that is almost impossible to imagine from above. Walks along the cliff connect us to species that need both ocean and land to survive, and kayaking brings with it a feeling of adventure reminiscent of what early explorers may have experienced. I hope that in this new year, you resolve to try at least one of these oceanic experiences.