Marine Big Five Wonders

Meet the Marine Big Five on your scenic journey from Cape Town to Morukuru Family in De Hoop Nature Reserve. This coastal route is one of the best in the world, with lush fynbos and plenty of ocean wonders, including the Marine Big Five. Here’s what you need to know about them and where to spot them.


Not all penguins live in Antarctica; the African penguin is endemic to South Africa and Namibia. This hardy bird often faces extreme summer heat and strong winds. Distinguished by its black and white “tuxedo”, this species is a must-see, especially as its status is considered Endangered by IUCN, possibly moving into the Critically Endangered status in the near future. Most visitors to South Africa head over to Boulders Beach to see the protected colony there. But there’s also a colony at Stony Point along the Cape Whale Coast. Remember to stick to the boardwalk and keep a suitable distance to allow these birds to breed successfully and follow their paths to go fishing. Their preferred food is fish – mainly sardines and anchovies – but sometimes they must swim a fair distance, so we don’t want them to exert any more energy than necessary. You can also see African penguins as well as rescued Rockhopper penguins at the Two Oceans Aquarium. The African penguin is essentially an island dweller, and Dyer Island is where you’ll find more of these feathered friends. It’s a protected bird area, but you can get close on a boat trip or stop in and visit the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) in Gansbaai (feeding time is at 3 pm). This world-class rehabilitation facility is focused on treating abandoned chicks, ill or injured penguins, and other seabirds.  Very occasionally, a penguin may strand in De Hoop Nature Reserve. When this happens, we ensure it’s taken to the penguin sanctuary for care.


There are a few key dolphin species moving through our waters – the Common dolphin, the Indo-Pacific bottlenose, and the Humpback dolphin. More on the Cape Town side, you might even see Heaviside’s or Dusky dolphins. Common dolphins are generally seen in large groups, even in the hundreds, so if you see a very large ripple of activity on the ocean surface, you can be sure it is Common dolphins chasing a fish bait ball. They’re also quite distinctive in colouring, so they’re easy to recognise. The bottlenose dolphins tend to travel in small family groups, perhaps twenty or so – there’s something quite magical about hearing them vocalise to each other, especially if you’re at sea, as they love swimming alongside the boats. Humpback dolphins are medium-sized dolphins and are known to inhabit only a narrow coastal band. They’re often encountered in protected bays, near estuaries, and sometimes rocky reefs and are usually found in small groups of less than ten. The species is endangered, and studies show there are probably fewer than 500 individuals on the South African coastline. Researchers are monitoring these shy and elusive dolphins, and they’re individually recognised through fin identification studies. Their name originates from a prominent hump at the dorsal fin and therefore makes them easy to identify from other dolphins found along the South African coast.


There are numerous Cape fur seal colonies along the Western Cape coastline, with an estimated 25 to 40 colonies hosting up to two million seals. You might smell their larger colonies before you see them. November is pupping season, and there are many small pups during this time. They’re born on land and remain under the care of their mothers for the first six months. The pups are born black and don’t have an insulating fat layer, so they can’t swim until they’re around that age. There are various ways to see the seals, including through snorkelling or diving trips in Cape Town and on boat cruises. Our friends at Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation have a seal platform just outside the Aquarium, and you could spend an afternoon just watching their antics. Often, you might see a seal sprawled out on the rocks or beach – usually, they’re just resting. Be mindful that whilst they look friendly, they can pack a nasty bite and can be quite aggressive if disturbed.


Gansbaai is known worldwide as a favourite destination for the iconic Great White shark. This is historically one of the most accessible populations in the world as the sharks can be found just metres from shore or hunting at the seal colony on Geyser Rock, opposite Dyer Island. The great white sharks along the South African coastline are transient and can undergo lengthy migrations between sightings. Over the past seven years, they’ve faced additional pressure from orca predation, so whilst sightings from shark cage diving vessels are less predictable, they are high on the bucket list for many, and you might still be lucky to see this legendary apex predator or be enthralled by the Bronze whaler sharks. They are also known as the copper shark because of its distinctive colouration. This species is found in temperate waters and is usually seen in active groups, unlike the more solitary white sharks. Bronze Whalers can grow up to 3.3m in length and have certainly filled a gap for shark lovers. The “bronzies” would normally only be seen by divers during events such as the Sardine Run, South Africa’s fish migration.


We left the best for last. De Hoop Nature Reserve hosts one of the highest congregations of Southern right whales. Whilst you will certainly see them along the way from June to September, the numbers at our location are the most impressive. Here, in the sheltered bay, they mate and calve from around June to November. You have front-row seats to all the action from Morukuru Beach Lodge and Morukuru Ocean House, as well as from Bites Beach Café. The whales’ distinctive V-shaped blow gives them away as a Southern right. You may even see a breaching Humpback whale migrating along the coastline, a 3,000km journey from the sub-Antarctic islands towards Mozambique’s warmer waters and back. Their blow is short and bushy. Or perhaps one of the local species, the shy Bryde’s whale, may make an appearance. The name is pronounced “Broo-dess” or ‘brewdus”, as it was named after a Norwegian by the name of Johan Bryde. These whales are found along the coastline throughout the year and feed on fish, often following large shoals – so look out for them when you spot those big groups of Common dolphins.

Many more…

The joy doesn’t stop there. We’re all about connecting you to nature. Join us as we explore the shores and rock pools and discover a whole new world – seek out the curious octopus, admire the starfish, look for mermaid’s purses (shark and ray eggs), and meet all our favourite seabirds and more with our nature guides. We look forward to sharing the Big Blue with you!