Another Magnificent Full Day Bird Island CruiseSaturday, 19th September 2020
By Lloyd Edwards
Once again Bird Island and the Addo MPA lived up to its reputation as the ultimate marine wilderness area in Africa. It just could not have been better! We set off from Port Elizabeth at 7am with 10 passengers and two crew in our trusty catamaran, “My China”. The weather has not been the best recently but Monday was a perfect forecast, no wind in the morning, a flat sea and a gentle east wind to blow us home from the island.
First up was a humpback cow logging on the surface. I was sure that the calf was nearby, probably feeding beneath its mother. Calves drink a few hundred litres of milk per day which contains 70% fat unlike humans 3%. It has the consistency of toothpaste and is jam packed with all the goodness to allow the calf to cover its remarkable 6 000 km journey. Sure enough, after five minutes, the six metre calf surfaced next to mom!
All along the way we spotted cow and calf pairs in the near perfect conditions. Then we observed a whole pod of twelve whales travelling very fast and close to each other. There was no doubt that these were testosterone loaded males looking for receptive females. They can be quite intimidating at times and these 40 ton plus monsters have scant regard for a mere 5 ton vessel like ours. It was one of the largest pods that I have witnessed in Algoa Bay. We followed them for our allotted 20 minutes and were entertained to all kinds of maneuvers. Due to the windless and overcast conditions we were treated to straight up blows and amazing reflections.
Around the halfway mark we came across two fish eating resident Bryde’s whales and rafts of penguins. There must have been bait fish in the area that had attracted these predators. The reflections around the penguins were just too beautiful. If you have not signed our petition to help protect the penguins and stop ship to ship bunkering in Algoa Bay until an Environmental Impact Assessment has been done please do so at http://chng.it/fNy5NtdJBv
We arrived at the seal colony at Black Rocks, threw down the pick and waited for the white sharks to appear. While assisting with white shark research at Bird Island over the years we knew that most of the sharks leave by the end of September. There were not many seals on the rocks as most of the pups had already been weaned. It was quite a surprise when two sharks pitched up after exactly 30 minutes, much to the delight of all aboard.
We had lunch in the Bird Island channel while watching the gannet show. They land in the water right next to the boat and start the preening their feathers. The island was covered in gannets that were coming and going in all directions. We are so privileged to have the largest gannetry on the planet right on our doorstep.
After lunch we sped off to Woody Cape. One of our passengers, Lee Mays, had seen our advert in the Sunday Times and come all the way from Johannesburg to do the cruise. She had done a cruise the previous day and was quite disappointed not to see dolphins, so the pressure was on. As we arrived at Woody Cape they arrived right on cue, surfing down the waves and breaching out the back. That was one very happy lady!
More humpback cow and calf pairs arrived and gave us a full show in front of the Alexandria Dunefields. It is not every cruise that you get them breaching and tail slapping with the dunes as a backdrop. What a wonderful sight.
The easterly breeze was starting to strengthen and Jake decided to cut across the bay so that we could get the wind coming directly from behind. His decision was vindicated when I saw a school of around 2000 Long-beaked common dolphins from my perch on the viewing platform. Needless to say, Lee was speechless at seeing so many dolphins ripping up the sea!
This will go down as one of the best cruises to Bird Island ever. It seems that the more we do them, the more we learn about where to find the animals.