The cold waters off the Namib coast harbor a wealth marine life. The chance of encountering dolphins, whales, turtles, seals and mola molas while sipping on a glass of champagne and enjoying fresh oysters makes the search for the Marine Big 5 an adventurous excursion.
1. The two whale species normally found in Walvis Bay are the humpback and the southern right whales. The humpback whale, the more common of the two, gets its name from its humped dorsal fin. These gentle giants weigh a mere 30,000 to 40,000kg, and are known for their enormous flippers, which make up close to a third of their body length. During winter in the southern hemisphere, these whales migrate from the Antarctic along the western coast of Southern Africa to the temperate waters off Angola. Here they calve in the warmer waters before returning to feed on krill in the rich feeding grounds of the chilly waters further south.
2. The Benguela dolphin, also known as Heaviside’s dolphin, is endemic to Southern Africa. This small dolphin grows up to 1.2 meters long and attains a mass of up to 40kg. At first glance these little marine mammals may be mistaken for baby killer whales, with their black and white markings. Benguela Dolphins feed on squid and bottom dwelling fish, but not much else is known about this species, which is classified as rare. Atlantic bottlenose and dusky dolphins are also seen in the lagoon, but less often.
3. The sea has many strange and mysterious creatures living in it, but the mola mola - or sunfish - may just be the strangest. The name sunfish is derived from its habit of appearing to sunbathe on the ocean surface. With species weighing in at as much as 2,300kg, it is the heaviest bony fish in the world. Mola molas also hold the record for producing the most eggs, with a female capable of laying 300 million in her lifetime. These unusual fish have been found at depths of up to 600 meters. Despite their size, sunfish are harmless creatures and feed mainly on soft-bodied jellyfish, blue bottles, squid and small fishes.
4. Another member of the Marine Big 5 searched for eagerly in the bay is the leatherback turtle. Big specimens can attain lengths of up to 2.5 meters and weigh over 500kg. They can dive as deep as 1,500 meters and stay under for up to nine minutes! To put this into perspective, humans can dive to about 90 meters, and only with special equipment.
5. The last of the Marine Big 5, Cape fur seals, are found commonly along the Namibian coast, with several large breeding colonies of these superbly adapted marine mammals occurring from south of Luderitz to Cape Frio in the Skeleton Coast. Big bull seals can weigh as much as 360kg, although the average weight is about 220kg. Some are accustomed to being fed and regularly board tour boats, giving tourists a close encounter with the endearing creatures.
Mola Mola Safaris, Levo Tours and Catamaran Charters all conduct tours around Pelican Point and Walvis Bay. Eco Marine Kayak Tours offers more adventurous guests a chance to get right on the water with these amazing animals. You may have the privilege of seeing one of the greatest shows on earth, a whale leaping out of the water in sheer exuberance.
Namibians are a funny lot. When it starts to rain they get a strange look in their eyes, jump into their vehicles and start driving around. The more torrential the downpour, the more active they become. They want to see the rivers flow, the dams fill and experience the rarity of rain firsthand.
This no doubt comes from living in a desert. Most people in more temperate climates avoid rain and find shelter. Not Namibians. They must feel it, smell it, taste it and most of all, be out in it. Since rain calls for celebration, events are never cancelled in Namibia because of it. And as Namibians will tell you, the first rain of the season, falling on the dust and dry grass, produces a distinctive smell that is delicious and memorable.
If you're fortunate enough to visit Namibia when it rains (we know that sounds odd), you'll find that the roads are more crowded that usual. The increased traffic is due to Namibians driving around to see as much of the wet stuff as they possibly can. Apart from perennial rivers on the southern and northern borders, Namibia’s rivers are ephemeral, flowing only during good rain years for a few hours or days at most. And when they flow, people gather to watch them.
Namibians are not content to wait for the weatherman to tell them how much rain has fallen. Most have a rain gauge in their backyard; farmers as many as a dozen scattered around their land. The day after it’s rained, Namibians will check their gauges and enter the figures into their Rainfall Book. Next they telephone their neighbors. “How much rain did you get?” It’s a friendly competition, but you can bet the guy with the most rain feels smug.
So when it rains, if you want to pass yourself off as a Namibian, get out into it, taste it, smell it and start dancing in the rain!
Click here to find out how you can to experience an adventure on one of Namibia's rivers in the rainy season!