Safari & Wildlife

Beyond the Big Five: Where to See the Marine Five

Beyond the Big Five: Where to See the Marine Five

The Big Five are the original rockstars of the safari circuit, habitually hogging the limelight and drawing crowds from far and wide. If you’re lucky enough to have traversed the African plains in a 4x4, you’ll likely have seen one of its esteemed members (namely lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalos and elephants) strutting about their stage-like savannah. But look beyond this longstanding supergroup and you’ll find a new line-up of acts emerging. First it was the Ugly Five - a less attractive but still intriguing quintet - and then it was the Little Five, a more elusive ensemble, yet all the more rewarding if you happened to catch a performance. What happens then if you dare to venture off land in search of new forms of entertainment? Introducing the Marine Five: much more than just a warm-up act, this symphony of sea creatures offers a completely different viewing experience - one that’s equally enticing, albeit slightly damper. Some sections of the Pacific Ocean have even been dubbed the ‘Serengeti of the Sea’, in recognition of their role as ‘oceanic hotspots’. So, if you’re looking for a new show to add to your bucket-list, then here’s where to see the Marine Five…

  1. Southern Right Whale
  2. Great White Shark
  3. Fur Seal
  4. African Penguin
  5. Bottlenose Dolphin


Southern Right Whale

As the biggest mammals on the planet, these graceful ocean giants astound on their sheer size alone and certainly make a splash on the sea creature circuit. They can measure up to a whopping 52ft in length and weigh around 80 tonnes. They are best seen along South Africa’s Cape Whale Route (from Cape Town to Cape Agulhas) between June and December, when they move into the shallow waters to calve. Humpback whales can also be seen playing in the sheltered coves of False Bay and Hermanus, yet Southern Rights are the ones to look out for. Distinguished by the barnacle covered skin on their heads and characteristically devoid of a dorsal fin, they entertain by waving their tail fins out of the water in a spirited manoeuvre known as ‘sailing’.


Great White Shark

Monopolising the spot at the top of the food chain, these torpedo-shaped predatory fish are the most misunderstood members of the Marine Five. Sharks remain one of the ocean’s most feared creatures despite their now endangered status, yet in reality they’re very selective hunters and not all that interested in humans (unlike Jaws would have you believe). Found in the coastal surface waters of all major oceans and growing up to 20ft in length, catching sight of a Great White promises to be both a thrilling and humbling experience. Mexico’s Isla Guadalupe and Costa Rica’s Cocos Island are often cited as the best places to dive with sharks, while South Africa’s Western Cape has been identified as a hotspot for close-range encounters (particularly Dyer Island near Gansbaai).


Fur Seal

Fur seals have a reputation for being the most laid-back of the Marine Five, spending their days sunning themselves along the waterfront and engaging in playful antics in the ocean. Sometimes nicknamed the ‘puppies’ of the sea thanks to their fun-loving and adventurous nature, these salty sea dogs may lack grace on land but are some of the sea’s most elegant and swift swimmers once they take to the waves. The Galapagos Islands are one of their most well-known hang outs, which you can get up close and personal to during dive trips. South Africa’s Hout Bay also plays host to a number of seal snorkelling experiences, with seal colonies here numbering in the thousands.


African Penguin

The African penguin is arguably the most adorable member of the Marine Five. Often occupying the cheeky and loveable role within pop culture (think Madagascar and Happy Feet), penguins in general are well-loved and much sought-after when it comes to animal sightings. While snow and ice are often thought to be their preferred habitat, there’s no need to head for chillier climes to catch a glimpse of an African penguin. Dapper in their black and white plumage and endemic to coastal areas of South Africa, these charismatic chaps can be found living in colonies on Dassen Island, St Croix Island, Robben Island, Bird Island, Dyer Island and Boulders Beach.


Bottlenose Dolphin

Intelligent, energetic and friendly, the Bottlenose dolphin is everyone’s favourite band member. Catching sight of a pod’s performance – leaping through the waves in unison – can only be described as magical. And in South Africa, who are home to over ten dolphin species, including the Bottlenose, you can expect sell-out shows around the clock. Closer to home, a range of species roam the Gulf of Taranto off the southern coast of Italy. However, it is off the coast of Portugal’s Azores archipelago where you’ll find the endemic Bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins. Further afield, Hawaii, California and New Zealand also boast plentiful populations of the playful marine mammals.

Written by Luisa Watts

Dolphins in New Zealand