Dolphins in Cape Town

Dolphins are animals that have, since ages, been subjects of fascination, particularly because of their curiosity, intelligence and cooperation with humans. After all, they have been interacting with us for as long as we have been aware of their existence.

Southern Africa is one of the world’s best places to watch dolphins (and whales since you often see them together). These mammals will give you a holiday rich in experiences and memories which will stay with you for a lifetime.

Cape Town has several species of dolphins, one endemic, the heaviside's dolphins, frequenting its waters throughout the year which you can find in False Bay, Hoot Bay and Dyer Island and other areas.

There are sometimes defined exclusion zones around the dolphins for their own protection. You cannot approach them beyond the defined limits. In free areas, you might even swim with them but avoid touching them since they are vulnerable marine mammals. However, do bring your cameras and binoculars as they are fast animals and certainly worth a watch!

In False Bay

Dusky, Heaviside's and Bottlenose Dolphins are present along the shores throughout the year.

They are particularly common in False Bay where you can find them in extremely large pods of over 100 individuals!

Such huge numbers are attracted to the bay by the big schools of the local fish Yellow Tail.

You might find the dolphins chasing them.

Their hunting technique is quite particular: they threaten their prey and attempt to create a ‘Bait Ball’ so that they can group the fish before they attack.

In Hout Bay

Hout Bay beach stretches from the beginning of Chapman’s Peak Drive and spans round the bay to its picturesque harbor.

Common dolphins are regularly seen in the bay. Since it is their common area, you will most probably find them relaxed, loosely dispersed, playing around or on the hunt. Dusky dolphins can also be seen and if you are lucky, they might find you friendly!

In Dyer Island

Here, 2 different species can be regular seen: the Humpback dolphin and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (a sub-species of the bottlenose dolphin).

Shallow water fish such as sardines, mackerels and mullets attract those resident dolphins. Most likely, you can spot the humpback dolphins in small groups of 2 or 3 while the bottlenose ones will be in larger groups of 5 to 15 members–and sometimes, even over 100 of them!

Other Dolphins Spots

Of course, there are other places in Cape Town where you can spot them. You are in southern Africa, after all!

In Gangsbaai, bottlenose dolphin watching tours are offered. These animals can also be seen along humpback dolphins in Plettenburg Bay, on the ‘Garden Route’.

Heaviside’s dolphins can be seen from the coast north of Cape Town, together with dusky dolphins.

More about the Dolphins Species

Common Bottlenose Dolphin

The common bottlenose dolphin (tursiops aduncus) is the most famous of all the species, largely due to its presence on television and other forms of media, and in aquariams. Sure, you would recognize Flipper!

The common bottlenose dolphin has a grey body with a quite pleasant face and usually remains at the surface as it is fond of surfing on the waves.

They usually live and hunt in groups of 10 – 30 members, but can also hunt individually.

They mainly feed on shallow water fish and cephalopods like squid and octopus and also, on pelagic and off-shore fish species.

Indo – Pacific bottlenose dolphin:

The main differences between the common bottlenose dolphin and the Indo – Pacific one is that the latter has a longer and more slender beak with a smaller and thinner body which is of a lighter color.

The average length of the Indo – Pacific bottlenose dolphin is about 2.6 meters long and weighs some 230 kg.

Humpback Dolphins

Humpback dolphins ((Sousa chinensis) look pretty much like bottlenose dolphins, but do not confuse them as the humpback ones have a lighter body color with a white belly. They have a long, slender beak, and a round hump before their small dorsal fin (which is what gives them the name).

They measure between 2 to 2.5 meters long and weigh approximately 150 kg. Humpback dolphins prefer the shores; they don’t usually roam in waters deeper than 20 meters. So they are particularly vulnerable as they are mostly in contact with human activities.

Dusky Dolphins

This species loves group company and cool waters, so you can often find it in the upwelling waters and cold currents.

Its upperside is dark but there is a very artistic sweet of white from above the beak and along the side to reach the underside with two white blazes towards the tail.

It will not be hard to recognize this dolphin. It is a perfectly aesthetic product of nature.

South African dusky dolphins measure around 1.40 to 2 meters long and they have an average weight between 115 to 140 kg.

They usually fish on pelagic fish such as anchovies and octopus.

Heaviside’s (or Haviside’s) Dolphins

They are small dolphins found on the west coast of South Africa, names after a captain Haviside who had taken a specimen from Namibia to the UK during the 1900s.

Their average length is about 1.8 meters (5 ft 11 in), weight is about 75 kg and live for about 20 years. They pretty much resemble porpoises. Their head is dark grey in colour while the front half of the upper side and the flanks are of a lighter grey and the underbelly, white.

When to See Them?

Dolphins can be seen throughout the year in the South African waters but summer is a particular period when you can expect to see the majority of them. From May to late November, the water becomes nutrient-rich by fish shoals which attract dolphins and whales to the shores.