Friday, December 2, 2011

Sardines in Hout Bay

People are always surprised to find out that there is a penguin species that can be found in Africa. Even though air temperatures can get pretty warm, on the western side of South Africa the cold ocean currents come up from the deep Atlantic Ocean. It brings up lots of nutrients which means lots of plankton, small fish, medium fish, etc. This means food for penguins! One type of fish that the African penguin eats is sardines, or pilchards. There are lots of other animals that like to eat sardines, too! This was pretty evident when I took a side trip the other day to the harbor in Hout Bay!

Hout Bay and harbor

Hout Bay is on the western side of the Cape Peninsula, not to far from Cape Town. The small harbor is a working harbor with lots of fishing boats, small tourist attractions and a small stretch of beach. When I visited, it wasn’t the best beach day for tanning but it was pretty busy anyway. After taking a closer look, I was amazed to see people fishing from the beach. Not with a fishing rod but just by wading into the water and scooping up fish. Sardines!


A school of sardines had come into the harbor and the fishing frenzy was on. People were just throwing nets into the water and pulling up fish. But it wasn’t just people doing some fishing. There was a huge flock of seabirds that were hunting as well as a big group of Cape fur seals. Right off the beach! It was pretty neat to watch the seals hunt for their food, with the younger pups playing with the fish before they ate it. It was quite the feeding frenzy just inside that little harbor with fish scales flying everywhere!

Toss the net overboard, pull up some fish

Huge flock of sea gulls and Cape fur seals

Seals with full bellies

While it was a great thing to watch and see the Cape fur seals up close (not to be confused with the Northern fur seals we have at the Aquarium!), it was a poignant reminder that sardines, and other fish, is a huge commodity in South Africa. Lots of animals, including people and the African penguin, rely on them for food. With overfishing being a problem in this country (and many others) penguins are having a harder time finding food and therefore abandoning their chicks before they are ready.

Fortunately SANCCOB is there to help those chicks get back on their feet and there are sustainable seafood programs in South Africa. Is it enough to ensure the sardines are there for the future and to stop the decline of the African penguin population? I don’t know. I hope so…it was a pretty cool thing to watch birds, people and seals all share in the same bounty and let’s keep our fingers crossed that it can continue for many generations to come.

Fishing from the beach. Will it continue?


  1. Hi Jo,
    I've liked seeing the baby penguins. I think it is interesting that they take care of lots of other birds, not just penguins. It must be really cool to work in SANCCOB.

    How many penguins have they taken in at SANCCOB since you got there?

    Was the school of sardines a baitball or not?

    I hope you have a good time!

  2. Hi Alex!
    I'm glad you like the pictures of the baby penguins. I'll be posting more pictures soon!

    There have been lots of penguins that have come to SANCCOB while I've been here. I think there has been close to 50 or so! Some of them are still in intensive care, some of them are pretty healthy already.

    As for the sardines, I'm not sure if they were in bait ball formation. I do know that there were LOTS of sardines around all over the place!

    Thanks for your comments and thanks for reading my blog! More posts to come!