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A Guide to Discovering South Africa's Marine Big 5


When you think of South Africa, often the Big 5 springs to mind; lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalos and leopards. But if you dive a little deeper, you'll find there is a lot more to be explored than what's on the surface.

So, what are the Marine Big 5? That would be dolphins, sharks, seals, penguins and whales.

Luckily, we know just the people to help you spot them in the wild.

Dreamcatcher boat with Dyer Island Cruises - Image: Philipa Worker

Dreamcatcher boat with Dyer Island Cruises

Image: Philipa Worker

Cruising Responsibly

Dyer Island Cruises and Marine Dynamics are recognised globally as a leading provider of marine based ecotours. They give people like you and me the opportunity to get out on the water and experience the Marine Big 5 and raise awareness of the positive impact we can bring to the marine conservation. One of the ways they do this is by homing penguins on Dyer Island. Dyer Island is home to hundreds of African penguins, although these numbers are sadly depleting. Local experts predict that these native animals will be extinct by the year 2026. Overexposure to hot, sunny weather and attack from larger, hungry predators like seals, are just two of the causes. One locally-launched project uses donations to build penguin houses to help increase their defences against these dangers. Penguins have always been a great love of mine and whilst visiting the Gansbaai site, I purchased one of these houses for my little penguin friends. It cost me the equivalent of around £20 and I received a certificate as thanks for the support. I only wish the housing market was so affordable in London!

The Journey - Image: Philipa Worker

The Journey

Image: Philipa Worker

The Journey

Out on the water with Dyer Island Cruises, the first of the Marine Big 5 we approached were the Humpback dolphins, South Africa's rarest coastal cetacean. Graceful and friendly, they were happy to swim alongside our Dreamcatcher in perfect unison with the waves. Sister company, Marine Dynamics, take people out daily for shark cage diving. As part of the Marine Big 5 cruise you're able to nosy up alongside their boat and watch the sharks in action from a safe and dry distance. The staff on board are so passionate and knowledgeable about the marine life that you find yourself becoming engulfed in the hunt for more.

Shark Alley - Image: Philipa Worker

Shark Alley

Image: Philipa Worker

Giving it the Seal of Approval

As you approach Shark Alley, you'll smell it before you see it. But it's not the sharks: I'd never have guessed seals could be so smelly! You have to smell it to believe it. Luckily the onboard crew were kind enough to bring around scented wet wipes to help soften the blow. Whilst you’re clinging to the sweet scent of lemons, the seals themselves are a delight to watch. So energetic and free, like acrobatics in a circus! With a local population of 60,000, Seal Alley would surely have been a more appropriate name.

Last but not least, the African penguins, bobbing up and down to the motion of the ocean. And that's what we find ourselves doing as we pick up speed. With our stylish orange anoraks to keep us cosy and the sea breeze flowing not-so-elegantly in our hair, we cruise past their home town of Dyer Island before heading back onto dry land where warm soup and fresh bread awaits.

Penguin hospital - Image: Philipa Worker

Penguin hospital

Image: Philipa Worker

A Whale of a Time

We weren’t fortunate enough to tick off the final of the 5 in our visit, but if you are keen to see the incredibly large species of the Humpback whale which roam these waters, the best time to visit is between May-November, with peak calving season falling July-August. Keep an eye out for the South Right whales and Bryde’s whales too!

So, when you’re planning your next South Africa Journey, make sure you tick off the Big 10 of this country’s great wildlife!

Written by Philipa Worker

A true foodie, full of smiles and laughter and always running here there and everywhere, Philipa has spent lots of time in Australia and Asia. An avid charity supporter and volunteer – she has ran marathons, visits the elderly and even gave up six months of her life to go to Bangladesh and help set up a sustainable training program to help people get into work and business. Her love of food and wine means she’s even hosted wine pairing evenings in the office to raise extra money! Philipa has just been to the deep south and New York, and next on her list is Iceland.

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