The staff at Ocean Odyssey spend many hours each week seeking out the diverse web of life which thrives in our local waters. No two days are ever alike out on the ocean and it is impossible to predict what we are going to see when we get out there – it is both a beautiful and thrilling game of anticipation. Some days the animals put on mesmerizing above water shows while other days they offer just a sneak peek of a dorsal fin or a fluke. Whilst each one of these encounters is special and we rarely miss an opportunity to wax lyrical about them, some encounters simply supersede others, leaving one with an overwhelming respect for the ocean and all the life it holds.
It isn’t easy finding wildlife when you are out at sea and we therefore rely heavily on our trusted whale spotter Grant Pietersen to guide us. He sits up at a prime viewing spot either in Brenton or at the Heads and scans the sea with his binoculars in search of wildlife activity. He then directs the skippers accordingly. He has worked for Ocean Odyssey for many years and has seen a lot of action during this time with us. But on July 12, he witnessed something that can only be described as an extraordinary miracle of nature. He described it as one of the most incredible things he had ever witnessed out in the ocean.
It was late in the afternoon on Wednesday and Grant was sent to go and spot for one of our whale watching trips. Peering through his very powerful binoculars, he quickly noticed a pod of dolphins close to the shoreline of Brenton on Sea. This, of course, is not an uncommon sight, as we are blessed with dolphin sightings throughout the year in Knysna. But he noticed that their behaviour was out of the ordinary. These dolphins were milling around what appeared to him, at first, to be a rock. Several humpback dolphins started breaching on top of it and he was immediately concerned that they might get injured. Suddenly, what he had thought was a rock, started shaking and thrashing about wildly and he quickly realised that it was a whale which had become beached on a sand bank close to the shore. The whale lifted its tail up in the air and he then recognised by its fluke that it was a humpback whale.
What happened next was beyond amazing and left him aghast! He explained how at least 50 or more dolphins – both Indian Ocean humpback and in-shore bottlenose dolphins – appeared to be working together to try and push the whale off the sand bank. He then noticed a young whale calf swimming about 200m away and he realised that it must be the baby belonging to the stranded whale. The group of dolphins continued relentlessly to push the whale seaward, and eventually it was dislodged from the sand bank. It then made it ways slowly back to its calf and out to sea. Immediately the dolphins dispersed, the humpbacks moving away in their small pod and the bottlenose dolphins heading into the surf to play.
It is moments like these that put the ocean and the life it holds into an entirely different perspective. Some people believe that we are the only species capable of empathy, but an incident such as this proves them so wrong. It is very clear that the whales and the two different species of dolphin were communicating with one another during this time. It is well known that dolphins are extremely intelligent beings, capable of highly cognitive behaviours and complex patterns of communication. They have high brain to body ratios, second only to humans.
We were all very excited to learn about Grant’s experience and really wanted to share this feel-good, happy story far and wide. What Grant witnessed that fortuitous day is proof that our marine mammals are sentient and highly conscious beings and should be respected and protected.