The sighting of sixteen orcas cruising across Plettenberg Bay on an ordinary Wednesday in March, means it is a great day to be at sea and a sign that the ocean is shaking off its summer skin and beginning to roll out a spectacle like no other.
According to reports, the orcas were first sighted by the marine safari at Ocean Safaris. However, it was young videographer Max Morris on safari with Ocean Blue Adventures who filmed the footage below. These 16 apex predators are the first spotted in the bay since November of last year.
Orcas, or killer whales, are seen infrequently in our bay as they prefer the deeper waters of the open ocean outside the bay’s protection but they do wander into shallower waters occasionally to hunt or feed. A sighting such as this is always a cause for celebration and interest as the season moves closer to winter – known as Whale Season in Plett.
This, amongst others, is the simplest reason why the Plett Ocean Festival and associated Marine Science Symposium, now in their second year, are so vital to the town’s annual calendar: winter is a time of great abundance of marine life, gentle sunshine and great activity beneath the waves. This year’s festival will take place from 30 June – 9 July 2023 with the symposium held once again at the Beacon Island Resort on 30 June, 1 & 2 July 2023.
Plett Tourism’s communications manager, Janet Middleton, a former scuba diving instructor, says: “Sighting orcas in Plett has always caused quite a stir because they usually spend their time further offshore. However, it’s a testament to the exciting and unpredictable nature of the marine environment that you never quite know what you’ll see or what will surface. It’s part of why we love the ocean so much and never more so than during whale season in the winter months.”
Dr Danielle Conry, who presented on our killer whale population at the 2022 Marine Science Symposium after recently returning from studying the species on South Africa’s remote Marion Island, wrote in an article for Ocean Blue Adventures:
“Although the killer whale is currently listed as one species, it consists of a number of populations, many of which are ecologically, genetically and morphologically distinct. In South African waters, killer whales are listed as “Least Concern” and the populations occurring off our shores are almost entirely unknown.
“Off the South African mainland there is evidence for two distinct morphotypes that differ in size, morphometrics, dental wear, diet and possibly pod size. Most of the individuals that are sighted and strand along our coast are believed to be “Type A” killer whales, while a few strandings, and possibly sightings, have been of the lesser known “flat-toothed” morphotype.”
Another lesser-known fact about the deeper waters off the Southern Cape coast of South Africa is that the sardines – those of the “greatest shoal on earth” Sardine Run – actually gather off our coastline for some months before moving along the current northwards into the Eastern Cape, Wild Coast and KwaZulu-Natal, where the continental shelf shifts closer to the shore forcing the sardines into shallower water, enabling great natural schooling and creating the most incredible marine hunting spectacle on the planet.
But the ocean, bird and marine activity starts months before this annual spectacle: just off Plettenberg Bay as dolphins, whales and other marine life gather to begin the great migration providing exceptional opportunities to view Plett’s ocean attractions in all their magnificence. This, coupled with migrating humpback and Southern right whales between June and November each year make this seaside village the perfect place for an action-packed, ocean-themed winter vacation.