The Lagoon 5 – Namibian Coastal Big 5

4 April 2017

When you go on safari to Namibia’s coast, don’t expect to see the usual Big 5 – lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant. But do expect to see the Coastal Big 5, a special Namibian phenomenon where you can see 5 fascinating seashore creatures. On the Atlantic Ocean, the waters are very cold and harbour creatures which appreciate this temperature: whales, dolphins, sunfish, leatherback turtles and the many Cape fur seals make up the Lagoon 5..

1. Humpback and Southern Right Whales

Meet the Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), a species of baleen whale that can measure from 12 to 16 m and weigh about 36,000 kg. Find these huge gentle giants cruising in the Atlantic Ocean off Namibia, their distinctive body shape easy to identify. See them breaching their knobbly heads and waving their tails in the air. Males can sing for anything from 10 to 20 minutes, for hours at a time. Humpback whales typically migrate up to 25,000 km every year, feeding only in summer, in the freezing polar waters, then breeding and giving birth in the warmer tropical waters where they live off their fat reserves.

You will also see the majestic Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) off the Namibian coastline, another baleen whale and identified by the large white callosities on its head and a long arching mouth that begins above the eye. Its skin is very dark grey or black, occasionally with some white patches on the belly. There are about 10,000 Southern right whales spread throughout the southern part of the Southern Hemisphere.

2. Benguela or Heaviside’s Dolphins 

You will only see this small, compact dolphin off the coast of Namibia and west coast of South Africa. They are endemic to the Benguela ecosystem on the south-west coast of Africa, therefore only occurring along about 2500km of coastline in the whole world.  Heaviside’s dolphins like to stay in the shallow water of less than 100m deep and you can see them jumping or playing in the waves close to shore when you visit Namibia. Measuring only up to 1.4m, they usually weigh from 40kg upwards and have a longer lower jaw and wide largemouth. Look out for their distinctive white bellies under black bodies as they feed on squid and hake. Research has found that they make a clicking sound which can extend into a low cry.

3. Sunfish or Mola Mola 

The Sunfish, or Mola Mola, is a huge roundish fish that sometimes lands up on beaches, washed ashore. They are very unusual looking with a heavy silvery body and rough skin. Some can get as big as 4m x 3m and can weigh up to 2.3kg but they start life as tiny as a dot on a page! They like to bask in the sun near the surface of the ocean water and like warmer oceans in the world and then the birds come and peck the parasites off their skin. How amazing is that? They are often mistaken for sharks and their strange pointy mouth never closes.

4. Leatherback turtle 

If you have ever seen a Leatherback turtle, you will know how huge they are – up to 2m long and 900kg heavy! They are wonderful reptiles from a family of turtles going back more than 100 million years and the sad part is their numbers are decreasing daily. Unlike most other turtles, the Leatherback has a shell that is softer, more flexible and feels like rubber. They can dive deeper than any other turtle, more than 1 000m below the surface of the ocean and stay there for up to 85 minutes! These gentle creatures lay their eggs in the sand.

5. Cape fur seals 

This is a huge marine animal which you can see in huge numbers at Cape Cross in Namibia. They are curious about divers in the water but when on land, they are fearful of people. They can reach up to 2.3m in length and 300kg in weight.

Cape Cross is a protected area owned by the government of Namibia under the name Cape Cross Seal Reserve and is home of one of the largest colonies of Cape Fur Seals globally. This is also one of the 2 main sites in Namibia (the other is in Luderitz) where seals are culled, partly for selling their hides and partly for protecting the fish stock. The economic impact of seals on the fish resources is controversial: While a government-initiated study found that seal colonies consume more fish than the entire fishing industry can catch, animal protection society Seal Alert South Africa estimated less than 0.3% losses to commercial fisheries.

Come and see for yourself, the Lagoon 5, on your next adventure holiday to Namibia!