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Knysna’s Marine Mammals

Knysna, being the natural haven it is for all sorts of wildlife, plays host to a spectacular array of marine mammals. From whales and dolphins during Whale-Watching season (annually from June to December) to resident species Knysna offers the sightseer something at any time of year. Here are some favourites:

© Ken Moore | Dreamstime.com

Humpback Whale ‘breaching’.

Humpbacked Whale

Humpbacked Whales are recognised by their long, narrow flippers, almost 1/3 of their body length. They have about 30 throat grooves and a small dorsal fin which is positioned far back. They vary in colour, some being completely white! The males sing complex melodies to communicate over long distances. Song themes are repeated for up to 20 minutes and change from year to year.

They are seen during the migration between breeding grounds of Mozambique and their summer feeding grounds in Antarctica (between June and December). They eat krill which they catch by circling beneath them while releasing a ‘curtain of bubbles’ to concentrate their prey.

© Ken Moore | Dreamstime.com

Bryde’s Whale

Bryde’s Whale

The Bryde’s Whale has three distinct longitudinal ridges that run from snout to near blow hole and 45 grooves that extend back to the navel. The dorsal fin is described to be very ‘shark-like’ (erect and hooked). They swim much faster than the southern right whale, chasing shoals of small fish, such as anchovy, pilchard and squid. They do, however, also eat plankton. Some of these whales are resident off the South African coast all year, while others migrate to equatorial waters.

They can often be seen 6-15km offshore, swimming in family groups of 5-6.

© Ken Moore | Dreamstime.com

Southern Right Whale ‘breaching’

Southern Right Whale

The most common on our coast, these whales were known as the ‘right’ whales to hunt, because they move slowly and float when harpooned making them easy to bring ashore. Heavy exploitation in the late 1800’s decimated more than 90% of their original numbers. Protection since 1935 has allowed the population to increase. Barnacles and whale-lice attach themselves to patches of raised rough skin on their heads. Researchers use these to ID individuals. They are mostly seen between June and December, when females calve in sheltered, sandy bottomed bays. For 3 months they remain in the warmer waters of the South African coast. The calves drink 200+ litres of milk per day to build blubber for the long trip to the Antarctic.

© Ken Moore | Dreamstime.com

Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenosed Dolphin

Bottlenosed dolphins get their name from their snouts which are short and stout. They have a thin, pale line running from the eye to the flipper and a darker grey ‘cape’ on the upper back. The belly is off-white and often speckled with grey spots. They often join bathers and come to the aid of newborn or injured dolphins. Pods of 20-50 dolphins feed on fish and squid, which they hunt by driving their prey into a ‘spearhead’ formation, before encircling them. Sadly, they often become entangled in shark nets.

Concern exists that some populations may be declining, due to the high toxin levels in polluted seawater (toxins are offloaded to young through milk).

© Ken Moore | Dreamstime.com

Despite their name, Common Dolphins are attractively coloured.

Common Dolphin

The common dolphin has a longer, narrower and pointed beak which distinguish them from the bottlenosed dolphin. They have a ‘criss-cross’ / hourglass pattern on the sides of the body. A cream coloured patch is noticeable from the eye to the dorsal fin and a grey patch behind the tail. There is a dark stripe from the flipper to the lower jaw. It is one of the most common warm-temperate and tropical species, most abundant near the coast. They are highly gregarious forming huge pods of 20-1000 individuals.

They usually feed in deeper water, on fish, squid and cuttlefish. Common dolphins often follow ships for miles, swimming up to 20 knots.

© Ken Moore | Dreamstime.com

Cape Fur Seal and young pup.

Cape Fur Seal

Adult Cape fur seals have thick coats, chocolate-brown to golden in colour whilst pups have black coats. These superb swimmers spend most of their life at sea, feeding mainly on fish, squid and octopus. On land, they are also quite skilled climbers. In October, adult bulls establish territories on islands and the mainland. These they defend continuously until the females join them in November. Dominant bulls have harems of up to 50 cows. They mate shortly after the females have given birth in November. Implantation of the embryo into the uterus is delayed for 4 months so that the 8 month development leads to birth one year later.

Knysna’s winter Whale Watching Season is at its peak during the winter months, when Southern Right Whales can be see off the Knysna Heads and close in along the coast. Whale watching operations depend on being able to get the boats through the narrow channel between the heads, but guesthouses overlooking the Ocean side Knysna Heads afford a day in day out view. Take  a look at our Accommodation listings to find a good spot to do some whale-watching over breakfast or sundowners.

More info on the town of Knysna More info on the Garden Route area



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