Namibia’s Oceanside

Most of Namibia is quite dry. Most of Namibia barely supports vegetation. But, as it is along the southeastern part of the African continent and is against the Atlantic Ocean for about 1000 miles, the Namibian coast is quite wet and quite interesting. The Namib Desert extends a bit northward into Angola and southward into the Republic of South Africa after running along the entire coast of this smallish (certainly in population numbers) African country. The coastal edge of Namibia is almost all sandy desert (not just dry); more than half of the coast is sandy and is only rocky for about 20% of its length. There are some areas of gravels and cobble as well. It was into this bit of ocean that we ventured for a few hours.

The water isn’t very warm here as the currents run northward from the south bringing cool water from the great Southern Ocean. There are birds and marine mammals like in most temperate waters. The sea lions, dolphins, and whales are a mix of residents and migrants.

The “fur seals” of Namibia are actually sea lions (note the ear of this beggar that joined us for a while); but are commonly called fur seals. The real common name is Cape Fur Seal or Brown Fur Seal. The bay at Walvis Bay provides shallow water, sandy haulouts, and plenty of small fish – thus there are lots of fur seals in the area – thousands and thousands actually. The young don’t venture as deeply or as far as the adults so there are always hundreds of younger animals rolling and splashing in the shallows. 
The great expanses of shoal provide safety and comfort for the “seals” as they relax and digest. Speaking of digestion, there are few places on the planet that have the intrusive odor of a seal colony. I can only imagine that researchers throw away their shoes and clothing after every visit to the colony’s favorite haulout. We coasted along the flats watching the animals for a while and the headed out toward the bay’s opening to the Atlantic. We never went out into the Atlantic but there were different animals at different locations as the underwater landscape changed and the interaction with the sea varied.
At one point we approached what appeared to be a floating ship wreck. I guess it was in a way but it also housed an oyster-cleaning operation. The aquaculture here is pretty thorough. In the case of oysters, they are mostly grown in hanging bags and seem to acquire a coating of algae. They are taken aboard this boat and scraped cleaned at least twice as they develop. In Massachusetts we grow oysters in flat cages pegged to the sandy bottom. They are sorted and culled as they grow but are not brushed until they are headed to market. Oysters are good (tasty good that is, not well behaved though they are pretty quiet) worldwide; but I do have a local fidelity to our Cape Cod oysters; Wellfleet, Brewster, and I’ll include the Island Creek oysters of Duxbury Bay. Mmm, those are good oysters – tasty, tangy, salty, and easy to come by.

Even though we are in a hot, dry country it can be cool on the water. The Benguela Current is not a warm current and it impacts the waters even in Wallis Bay. We were dressed as if on an April whale watch off Massachusetts and were still chilly.

We had Great White Pelicans as well as Cape Cormorants and fur seals come aboard our boat. They know that we are looking for them and at them and they have a rather demanding nature – they want us to provide fishy snacks in order to gain their cooperation. We did and then they did.

The Cape Cormorant is pretty much like all the wold’s cormorants; an aquatic bird that eats fish, lacks waterproofing, is mostly dark colored, and gets some color at the base of the bill during breeding season. The Cape Cormorant has a turquoise eye in addition to that usual array of traits.

The Subantarctic (or Brown) Skua is a pelagic bird found along the southeast coast of Africa. They are in the same group as our jaegers or skuas as the Europeans say. Typically they steal food from gulls, terns, shearwaters, petrels. They are also a threat in penguin and seabird colonies where they are happy to rush in and grab a youngster or hatching egg. They are strong fliers and (despite their approach to life) they are quite a treat for us land-restricted  bird watching-mammals.

The jelly fish below is commonly called the Sea Nettle. In the heavily fished waters of Namibia is has been shown that jelly fish now provide more biomass than do the fish. The sardine and anchovy fisheries that have harvested in Namibian waters for the last 45 years have decimated the numbers of forage fish. This has dramatically altered the population of many sea animals. If the food disappears so do those that ate that food and the things that food lived on can increase dramatically. A seesaw without someone on the other side I guess………

Like all oceans and bays the complexity of life culminates with vertebrate animals like mammals and birds. It is the billions of cyanobacteria, single-celled photosynthesizers, crustaceans, and small creatures that support these larger animals. Of the medium-sized creatures that feed the big guys (molluscs, crustaceans, osteo fishes, and so much more) one easily visible creature was the sea jellys that we saw. These creatures are nearly all water but provide a substantial part of the diet of sea turtles (for example).
Lastly for this page, but by no means the least, I want to include a rather blah image of the rare and geographically limited dolphin called the Heaviside Dolphin. It is really the Haviside Dolphin as it was named for Captain Heaviside; but it has been misspelled for years now. This small animal is not well studied but seems to be very coastal in its distribution and almost limited to the Namibian coastline. It has relatives (same Genus) along the coast of the Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands (Commerson’s Dolphin) and up the very southern Chilean Coast as well (Black Dolphin). In New Zealand waters there is another member of the genus called Hector’s Dolphin. 
These four species are all in southern waters and would suggest that they might have been in the water as Gondwana broke apart and the continents moved (and are still moving) to the locations we accept as permanent (they aren’t). But it is much more likely that at some point populations (or pods or gams or groups or families) of the ancestral dolphin left their home waters and established a population elsewhere. They then adapted to that area and through isolation and time developed into what we now see as four similar species; hence the one Genus.

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