Cape Town Pelagics is a sister company of Birding Africa. Birding Africa was voted as one of the top five most recommended bird tour companies in the world by Birdwatch Magazine. The company is run as a non-profit, and all the profit is donated to seabird research and conservation, including Birdlife International's Save the Albatross Fund. You can see why I had to see what Cape Town Pelagics was all about.
Getting ready for the Cape Town Pelagics boat trip
The Cape Town Pelagics boat tours are very weather dependent. Tours are scheduled over 2 consecutive days, so if weather prevents the trip going out on the first day, they have a backup day to allow a second chance to go out. Our day began with great excitement. I was warned to take my seasick tablets and did so diligently before we departed. A quick safety briefing, and we were on our way.
Cape of Good Hope lighthouse viewed from the boat
The tour started by navigating around the Cape of Good Hope. We spent some time taking photos of the lighthouses and beautiful scenery. The ocean is still calm and pleasant. Little did we know what was awaiting us.
Our seabirding tour was scheduled on a day just after a period of severe weather, so we quickly realised that today would not be a comfortable ride. The waves we were navigating would have made even the most seasoned seafarers think twice about chasing photos out on the ocean. Many of us got sick; the seasick tablets offered only slight respite.
Cape (Pintado) Petrel
The objective was to find a trawler and take photos of the birds that come to feed in and around the trawler. The skipper monitors the radio channels to get an idea of where we would find a trawler. As I understand, we are not guaranteed to find a trawler, but on our day, we did.
Once we reached the trawler, the seabird sightings and photo opportunities removed any doubt that the rough waters were worth the photo opportunities. Birds, birds everywhere. Our tour delivered 22 seabird sightings—any birder's dream list.
Shy Albatross feeding
List of seabirds birds we sighted
- African Black Oystercatcher
- Subantarctic Skua
- Kelp / Cape Gull
- Hartlaub's Gull
- Sabine’s Gull
- Arctic Tern
- Antarctic Tern
- Cape Gannet
- Crowned Cormorant
- Bank Cormorant
- Cape Cormorant
- African Penguin
- Wilson’s Storm Petrel
- Shy Albatross
- Black Bellied Storm Petrel
- Black-browed Albatross
- Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross
- Southern Giant Petrel
- Northern Giant Petrel
- Pintado Petrel
- White-chinned Petrel
- Sooty Shearwater
Trawler attracting seabird activity
Our bird guide was incredibly knowledgeable, and his identification came quickly. I have to admit, slightly too fast for my limited bird knowledge. But then I was there for the photography and happily stuck behind the Nikon D780 camera I reviewed and my AF-S Nikor 200-500 Nikon lens.
As an environmentalist and a part vegetarian, it was heartbreaking to think about all the fish the trawler was sweeping up. The idea that the full trawling net that delivered such beaitiful bird sightings was filled with death and destruction left me cold. But, on the flip side was also filled with food and provided nourishment for such a large selection of birds, leaving me morally divided.
Local fishermen catching fish using hand-lines
The environment is such a complex web of concern. Everything is connected. If we add social concerns such as the economy, including, for example, the fishermen making a living for their families on the boat, to the equation, the complexity increases exponentially.
Cape fur seal
The trip back to the harbour proved more comfortable. The journey provided some opportunities to photograph local fishermen fishing using handlines and a stopover to photograph a seal colony. Overall the Cape Town Pelagic boat tour was a fantastic success, and I recommend it to any bird lover or bird photographer visiting Cape Town.