It’s calmer on the False Bay side when the nor’westerly Atlantic swells push onto the coast; though the wave height may not be as high as along the western edge of the Cape Peninsula there is still power in the break. We watch with great anxiety for the otters and penguins as they exit the surging waters. Fortunately the Boulders’ penguin colony is sited in a sheltered sandy cove, with a defence of boulders breaking up the force of the water. Still these sturdy little creatures risk being tumbled in the surf. Once on land they head for shelter from the strong winds. Interesting to see the Cape cormorants happily hunkered down amongst the penguins. (Note the little penguin with the missing foot.)
Close by the Cape clawless otters (Aonyx capensis) maintain secret holts on land where they can hole up out of the rough seas. We’ve been fortunate to observe a pair which have returned to the area near our garden since the vegetation has regenerated after the devastating fires. Unlike the penguins’ sandy beach landing, the otters negotiate a rocky shore and often suffer from injuries. Pyjama shark is the catch of the day. If you’d like to read more details about the otters Wilf Nussey’s enthralling stories are here.
The afternoon shadows lengthen as the sun slips towards the horizon and the African penguins return from a day’s fishing. Stocks of their prey, small pelagic fish such as sardines and anchovies are dwindling in numbers and as a consequence since 2000 the penguin populations off South African have been declining, especially off the heavily fished West Coast. Give a thought for these charismatic little creatures as they are listed as Endangered on the IUCN’s REd Data List.
Victory is sweet for the dominant male African penguin: territorial space, mating rights, future chicks. Posturing is one tactic, but the fight can get bloody if the opponent does not back off.
The dawn march.
Up and over the rocks and down to the sea.
Warm-up exercises to get the flippers in tune.
Ready with the flipper routine?
A few dance steps.
Moving that upper body.
Checking out the water.
Barrel rolls and preening before the big day’s swim.
The bathing routine.
And then they’re off ..
Graceful entry into the sea.
All ready for the action.
There’s always quite a hubbub in our local penguin colony as the penguins rouse at the start of a new day. Cute as they may look, they have excellent voice projection, and their loud ‘braying’ calls can be heard from some distance. Like commuters gathering for the daily grind, they can be seen emerging from their nests and waddling from far and wide to the nearest assembly points. Once there a spot of preening and a ‘limbering-up’routine precedes the moment before they enter the water. They set off in groups – safety in numbers is their strategy in confusing the predators.
Sadly the African penguin population is decreasing fast and the species is listed as endangered. From an estimated one million breeding pairs in the 1930s, less than 2% of the population survive in the wild today. According to the figures released by the S.A Department of Environmental Affairs in 2012 there are 18,683 breeding pairs in the wild. Commercial over-fishing, pollution and predation add to the threat of their survival.
The Boulders colony has an interesting history having started with just one breeding pair in 1984. The story goes that a number of rehabilitated penguins rescued from an oil spill near Dassen Island were released from False Bay and this couple instead of swimming back to the rocky island discovered the idyllic coves of one the peninsula’s premier beaches in the heart of an urban area. As the population grew their presence wasn’t at all welcome. Onto the scene came Van, the Penguin Man who took an interest in the welfare of the penguins. Mr van der Merwe, a retired naval officer set up station on the beach and became a noted guardian. Scientists and local residents have been astounded by the rapid growth of this colony which increased on average by more that 60% per year. However the numbers peaked to around 4,500 and since then have tapered off to 3,069 according to 2014 figures. SanParks formalised the area into a conservation area while the colony has expanded beyond the formal boundaries and the area to the south, Burgher’s Walk is managed by the City of Cape Town.
Dawn crept in with a quiet sparkle this morning. There was none of the glorious fanfare of deep reds or orange, just a pure silvery autumn light. Roused for the activity of the day, the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) at Boulders Beach set off to their feeding grounds in False Bay.
Brie Anne Demkiw sets the photo challenge this week with “Early Bird”.