When I was searching for opportunities to see whales and dolphins in their natural environment I came across the ORCA Foundation in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. After a demanding professional period I needed a short hiatus to think about my next steps. Therefore, I stayed three months in Plettenberg Bay to realize my dream to see whales and dolphins, but also think about my next professional path.
What is the ORCA Foundation in Plettenberg Bay?
The ORCA Foundation (Ocean Research Conservation Africa) is an organization and – as the name suggests – is dedicated to marine conservation. They receive volunteers from around the world. They combine tourism with conservation, education, research and community development.
The ORCA Foundation works closely together with Ocean Blue Adventures – a whale watching company. Because of this, volunteers at the ORCA Foundation can participate in several whale whatching tours by boat during their stay.
The volunteer program of the ORCA Foundation comprises various activities in order to guarantee a great time in South Africa for all participants.
My favourite activity during my three month stay at the ORCA Foundation in Plettenberg Bay were the boat rides with Ocean Blue Adventure because of the whales and dolphins I wished to see.
However, after my arrival I had to wait for a few more days to see the first whales and dolphins as sometimes the weather did not permit us to leave the beach on a boat or when the weather was fine the animals did not show up…
When the weather allowed us to leave the shore and the animals showed up I got many beautiful sightings.
During my three month stay in Plettenberg Bay I saw all three whale speciesthat were either resident to the waters around the town or passing during their annual migrations. I saw humpback whales,…
… Southern Right Whales,…
… but also Bryde’s whales.
Furthermore, I could observe many, many dolphins like Bottlenose dolphins,…
… Common dolphins,…
… and humpback dolphins.
Whale Watching companies like Ocean Blue Adventures usually pass on their tours the Robberg Nature Reserve to visit the Cape fur seal colony.
On most boat trips we observed even one solitary Southern elephant seal.
During the whale watching tours I was collecting data on the number of whales we observed, their position and their behavior towards the whale watching boat. I submitted all data plus numerous photos to the citizen science project MammalMAP.
But this is not the only citizen science project on the ORCA Foundation program.
Another project the people of the ORCA Foundation support is the ELMO project. The ELMO project is focused on research of sharks, skates, and rays.
Thus, on our hikes in the Robberg Nature Reserve we constantly looked out for sharks and the ORCA Foundation reports every shark sighting to the ELMO team.
Another project I supported during my stay at the ORCA Foundation was the SouSA project by sending them all my humpback dolphin photos.
Participating at these citizen science projects was a good way for me to learn more about the regional natural environment, and specifically, about South Africa’s biodiversity.
At the ORCA Foundation collecting data for citizen science projects was often combined with other activities.
For example, when we were searching for egg cases for the ELMO project, we were also collecting trash at the beaches.
Sometimes in Nature’s Valley and sometimes at the Robberg Nature Reserve. We constantly tried to collect as much trash as possible.
Superficially many beaches looked quite clean to me.
But many plastic pieces are so small, and thus, difficult to see from afar. They can be easily distributed by the wind from one place to another one.
The ORCA Foundation also participates every year in beach clean-ups on the International Coastal Cleanup day which is a worldwide campaign by the Ocean Conservancy.
Another activity at the ORCA Foundation was planting trees.
However, before we could plant the trees we had to choose one. And this was in a garden close to Plettenberg Bay.
The owner’s dog was „helping“ us when we were choosing trees.
I finally got a wild banana (Strelitzia).
We planted the wild banana and other trees at the reserve of the Brackenburn C.R.E.W. The Brackenburn C.R.E.W. and the ORCA Foundation work closely together.
Every time when we visited the Brackenburn C.R.E.W. we were welcomed by a dog and donkey Cara.
The Brackenburn C.R.E.W. is – like the ORCA Foundation – located close to Plettenberg Bay, and thus, along the Garden Route. I was very impressed by the people of the the Brackenburn C.R.E.W. due to their knowledge and love for wildlife and conservation.
The Brackenburn C.R.E.W. offers guided tours through the forest and along a river. Even schools are welcome to participate. Education is one of Brackenburn C.R.E.W.’s priorities, but it is also possible for kids to get close to animals like rabbits, guinea pigs or donkey Cara. The owners of the terrain have a broad and deep knowledge of South Africa’s nature. At the rehabilitation center they inform people what they can do when they find an injured wild animal.
One highlight at one of our hikes along the river was finding a Knysna dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion damaranum) close to the river.
When we were not at the Brackenburn C.R.E.W., nor on a whale watching boat or collecting trash and eggcases for ELMO, we helped at Tenikwa or at the animal shelter in Plettenberg Bay cleaning the penguin pool or the dog pounds, respectively.
That was physically really exhausting!
Other days were more relaxing. For example when we went to SANCCOB or Knynsa.
By the way, Knysna is also worth a visit.
We went to Knysna for example when we were visiting the Lunchbox Theatre. The Lunchbox Theatre is a great project that organizes plays to encourage children to protect nature. The ORCA Foundation supports the theatre group financially. Great idea, great people, great project to support.
Other days started quite early when we joined a group of bird experts in the Nature’s Valley. We watched them ringing the birds and learned a lot about South African birds.
Bird ringing days usually started very early. Sometimes it is really worth to wake up early because of the beautiful sunrises like the one I observed close to our neighborhood.
Another thing I want to mention here: The ORCA Foundation supports with their income a crèche (Siyakula) in a township. We visited them once in a week to help cleaning the dishes, sometimes reading a story or playing a game.
The founder of the ORCA Foundatin and Ocean Blue Adventure is also the founder of the Sabrina Love Foundation – an organization that supports disabled children.
That means one part of the money that volunteers pay for the ORCA Foundation goes to the local community.
There were some more places around Plettenberg Bay I visited during my three month stay at the ORCA Foundation.
Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve
On one weekend I went with a group from Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town where I saw African penguins at the Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town and baboons in the Cape Peninsula Nature Reserve.
In Plettenberg Bay I lived in a quiet neighborhood.
This is the house I shared with international people.
By the way, Plettenberg Bay was an important place in the past during the whaling period. Some traces of this period can be still seen at some places in Plettenberg Bay like at the former whaling station which is now a hotel.
Plettenberg Bay is a small town with about 30.000 residents in the Western Cape of South Africa. The bay is protected by the Robberg peninsula.
I had a great time in Plettenberg Bay. As I mentioned at the beginning, I realized my dream to see whales and dolphins in their natural environment. It was also a good way for me to get some distance to my previous life and from academia. I hope it was not the last time that I have been in Plettenberg Bay.