Living by the coast has it’s drawbacks sometimes – the seasonal wind and sea fret can impact the hardiest of coastal dwellers. Just when we thought spring had settled a couple of low frontal weather systems had us scurrying to get out the winter layers again. On the Atlantic side the seas were huge, and one of the unexpected visitors to our rocky beach was an exhausted young Cape fur seal. It hauled out of the water and spent the day on the rocks recuperating. Seal pups are only weaned when they are about nine months old. Baleful eyes warily watched as I attempted to remain discreetly hidden.
Generally the dassie (Rock hyrax) colony commands rights over the rocks and sandbathing facilities, little seal was the first intruder and then up popped a Cape clawless otter.
It was all action for this photographer, as the next to appear (out at sea) were Southern right whales. Their sheer size and tonnage have us entranced and the trick is to figure what is happening out there by trying to piece together the body parts which randomly appear – a ventral fin, the size of the flukes – is it adult or newly born? Or perhaps the cavorting of mating rituals?
Further along the road at the penguin colony the chicks are looking quite bedraggled in various stages of growth:
Looking sleek and probably almost ready to fledge and make off on it’s own, this juvenile’s plumage will soon change to adult colouration.
False Bay is sometimes referred to as the “Serengeti of the seas” for it’s rich marine life and influx of seasonal species. Though there is the fear that many species are decreasing in numbers and little is being done to protect the resources.
Pools of toxic algal bloom which sometimes occur when there is an upwelling of nutrient rich phytoplankton, turn the water an unusual reddish brown colour. These red tides cause depletion of oxygen in the water which is harmful to filter feeders and crustaceans. Tons of of rock lobsters and other shellfish become casualties and the beaches fester with the die off of many of these species.
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.
Two days have passed since the storm and the sandy beach where I photographed the galloping zebra has altered in the aftermath. Today it is strewn with huge piles of kelp, dislodged by the powerful waves and borne in on the spring high tide.
The sandy beach
Kelp washed ashore after the storm
The kelp brought with it a bonanza for the baboons, a feast of mussels still attached to the fronds. The baboons living along the coast supplement their diet with this highly nutritious resource which is rich in omega oils. They tucked in with gusto, and I noticed that some of the older females had packed their cheek pouches until they bulged into hanging pouches. There was a lot of ‘chatter’ as they sucked and chewed and a delightful sound of ‘hiccups’ as one greedy adult male gulped down the morsels far too quickly.
A crisis looms here in the Cape as drought grips the city of Cape Town and the surrounds. It is interesting to see these scenes at Olifantsbos beach where a gaggle of Egyptian geese and baboons hang out together, drawn to a fresh water spring very close to the edge of the tidal line.