While we were staying in Sea View we had the opportunity to go along with Raggy Charters on a number of whale, dolphin and penguin cruises in the Algoa Bay. The Algoa Bay stretches from Port Elizabeth to Woody Cape and two groups of islands can be found in the bay. One is St Croix and the other is Bird Island. On St Croix you’ll find the largest colony of African Penguins of the world. Unfortunately their numbers have been declining over the past years due to pollution and over-fishing. Currently there are 6500 breeding pairs on the island. Recently both the islands of St. Croix and Bird Island have become part of the Addo Elephant National Park and are therefore a marine protected area. With this development there is hope that the number of African Pinguïns will increase again. The Algoa Bay is also frequently visited by other animals such as dolphins, whales and sharks.
More dolphins than you can count
We were lucky enough to be able to join Raggy Charters on a trip to Bird Island. A researcher studying the population of pinguïns on Bird Island had to be dropped of over there. Since the island is about a two hours away from the harbour of Port Elizabeth they only run this trip a couple times per year.
We left the harbour early in the morning to be somewhat on time at Bird Island. While we were on our way to the island we stumbled upon a massive school of dolphins. What a great sighting! If you see one dolphin jumping out of the water there are three of them under water. This way you can estimate the size of the school. This time must have been hundreds of them.
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Before you get to Bird Island you pass an island called Black Rocks where 4.000 Cape Seals live. These cool animals are really curious and swim right up to the boat. The colony is spread out over three different rocks and since they are living here it’s also a great place to spot great white sharks. Thank god for the seals but a bit unfortunate for us: we didn’t see any sharks that day.
When we said goodbye to the seals we were on our way to Bird Island. Bird Island is well known for its massive population of Cape Gannets. There are about 120.000 of them on the island which makes it the biggest Cape Gannet colony in the world. It’s a perfect island for them since it’s quite flat which makes it easy for them to take off and land. Since they breed on this island as well you’ll see thousands of them if you pass the island.
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What makes these birds so special is that they’re the biggest plumb-diving birds in the world. A Cape Gannet can dive into the water from a height of 30(!) meters with speeds of up to 100km/h(!) to catch fish. They’re able to survive this due to the ‘airbags’ in their necks which absorbs the impact when hitting the water. Often times you’ll see a number of Gannets diving at the same spot. This happens when a group of sardines is swimming in the bay. Dolphins and penguins circle around the sardines to group them together after which they will try and eat them. Cape Gannets then plunge into the water and try to grab some sardines as well. This is called a bait ball and sometimes whales and sharks will also join the party. In March and April a number of these bait balls occur in the Algoa Bay and then they call it the ‘Sardine run’.
After a whole day out on the Indian Ocean we returned to the Port Elizabeth harbour. What a ‘lekker’ (great) trip. Raggy Charters offers more of these cruises to both St. Croix and Bird Island. They are also highly involved and committed to both research of penguins and conservation of the Algoa Bay. With their daily records they are able to see the developments of the bay over time. Next to that they go to local schools to teach the children about their bay and why it’s so important to conserve and protect it. Wanna know more about Raggy Charters? Check their website!