South Africa’s Marine Big 5 Can Be Viewed Right On Our Doorstep

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Everyone has heard of South Africa’s Big 5 land animals. But have you heard about the Marine Big 5? This includes the African Penguin, the Cape Fur Seal, dolphins, the Southern Right Whale, and the Great White Shark. All of these can be spotted along the beautiful west coast of South Africa, stretching from Cape Town to Hermanus. Whether you want to do some marine life spotting from the comfort of your room with a pair of binoculars or from one of the many boat trips along the coast to have a closer look, the Marine Big 5 is right on our doorstep.

The African Penguin

The African Penguin is also known as the Cape Penguin or the South African Penguin and can be found from central Namibia all the way to Gqeberha/Port Elizabeth. The small black and white bird can be spotted by its distinctive pink patches above the eyes. The best spot in Cape Town to see them in their natural habitat is Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town, where the colony of nearly 3000 birds go about their business. Other great options to view the African Penguin are Robben Island and Stony Point in Betty’s Bay. If you would like to volunteer with penguins, SANCCOB is an excellent option, which you can read more about here.

The Cape Fur Seal

The Cape Fur Seal, or the Brown Fur Seal, is endemic to Namibia and South Africa, among other areas of the world. These playful ‘sea puppies’ (as they are sometimes called) are dotted all along the coast of South Africa. The seals are often hunted by sharks for food, but they have some tactics to avoid this, like swimming in large groups, scaring sharks, and making sharp turns to confuse the sharks.

They can often be spotted from shore playing around in the Cape Town waters, but if you want a closer look there are quite a few options. Seals are often found tanning in the harbour or playing along the harbour walls in Hout Bay, Kalk Bay, and the V&A Waterfront. At Duiker Island in the Karbonkelberg marine protected area you can actually go snorkelling and diving with the seals – they are known for their curiosity underwater and often swim alongside divers (the area is shark-free – don’t worry!). You can also take any boat trip out of a Cape Town harbour and possibly have the seals swimming alongside the boat.


Dolphin sightings are a frequent occurrence along the South African coastline and the country is lucky to have a variety of dolphin species visit our shores. Because dolphins very rarely venture into ocean areas that are deeper than 30 metres, they can often be spotted near the beach. Humpbacked Dolphins are shy and generally avoid human activity and boats, but Bottlenose Dolphins and Common Dolphins are curious and playful species who will interact with boats, surfers, and other humans. You can often spot dolphins from the shore, but if you want a closer look consider a boat cruise or a kayak. Swimming with dolphins is illegal in South Africa, so please avoid any experiences that offer this interaction. The Sardine Run is also a great opportunity to spot dolphins. An enormous migration of millions of silvery pilchards take place between May and July along the east coast, starting at the southern tip of Africa. Around 18000 dolphins work hard to herd the sardines into ‘bait balls’ which offers the dolphins and other predators the opportunity to attack and feed on the fish.

The Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whales spend half of the year mating, calving, and rearing their young along the coast of South Africa. June to December these awe-inspiring creatures take shelter in the warmer waters of our coastline from the cold waters of Antarctica. 3000 16-metre-long whales often make their homes in sheltered bays, making places like False Bay, Hermanus, and the Garden Route excellent locations to try and spot whales. You can take boat trips to try and get a closer look, or if you’re lucky interact with them from a kayak. Hermanus has many paths running along cliffs that overlook the waters where these whales take shelter and at the end of every September, the town hosts the Hermanus Whale Festival. This community event celebrates the whale migration and places an emphasis on education and environmentally responsible adventures.

The Great White Shark

The Great White Shark is today a threatened species after negative publicity and unjust persecution. There are an estimated 5000 creatures left of this magnificent species and South Africa is home to around 2000 of them. These sharks are the largest fish species on earth and can reach between 4.5 and 6 metres in length. They also have several rows of regenerating serrated teeth and use their finely developed sense to detect the electrical impulses of their prey in the water. There are several ways to view Great White Sharks, like boat trips and cage diving, although there is particular controversy around some of these methods. Using chum to lure sharks can be seen as unnatural, and following this with lowering humans into the water can link food and humans in a shark’s mind, which it is not naturally predisposed to do. Boat trips will also sometimes use decoy prey to attract the sharks. If you do choose to go on a marine safari to view these creatures, be sure to do some research beforehand and choose the most ethical one.

The South African coastline is rich with marine life, and you can view all the Marine Big 5 either from the shores in Cape Town, on the Cape Town waters, or within a short drive from the Mother City. Be sure to ask our friendly staff at reception if you are looking for any recommendations on where to spot these sea creatures or have any other animal experiences.

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