St Helena Bay Region
The great explorer Vasco da Gama anchored in this bay and named it Santa Elena after the mother of Constantine the Great. On 8 November 1497 the went ashore and found water and provisions. A number of years after the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck free burghers were sent to St Helena Bay to look into the potential of the bay with the abundance of fish found here. Many years later the first fish canning factory was founded. Over time other factories were founded, each with its own wharf, and now there are 8 fish processing factories and 4 crayfish factories along the bay.
The mainstay of St Helena Bay is the fishing industry. More than 50% of South Africa’s fish production and processing are done in St Helena Bay factories. St Helena Bay Fishing, which produces Lucky Star products, is the largest in the southern hemisphere. The various factories in the bay produce tinned fish products like pilchards in tomato puree, processing of hake, fish-meal and export of live crayfish. Other industries like engineering works, shipping maintenance, fish-net repairs, complete shipbuilding industry and more can be found on the wharf.
Some interesting facts about the St Helena Bay:
The St Helena Bay area enjoys moderate temperatures, with less wind and rain than in the Cape and more sunny days which are ideal for relaxation. There are a hotel, several self-catering units and caravan parks available to suit all preferences.
Bordering Stompneusbaai are large luxurious private resorts such as Shelley Point, Britannia Bay, Cape St Martin – with round granite boulders, white beaches and palm trees! Paradise on the West Coast.
What to do…
Visit the fish and crayfish factories
View fish trawlers on the kaaie
Vasco da Gama monument
Visit the shipyard
Windsurfing at Britannia Bay
Hiking between Stompneusbaai and Paternoster
St Helena Hotel
FAUNA, FLORA AND AVIFAUNA
The West Coast is known internationally as a wader's hotspot that peaks
between November and March when visiting migrants appear on these shores.
Some of the more sought after species include Red-necked Phalaropes, Common
Redshanks, White-rumped Sandpipers and Black-tailed Godwits.
Besides the nature reserves, birders should visit the hides at the West
Coast Fossil Park and the golf club in Vredenburg. Also highly recommended
is Rocher Pan Nature Reserve and Verlorenvlei further north – another
‘hotspot’ – with its roost of terns. The mountainous
backdrop is home to Verreaux’s Eagle and the strandveld vegetation
supports birds such as Cape Penduline-Tit, Southern Black Korhaan and
the Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler. On Britannica Heights at St Helena Bay
four of the lark species can be seen.
Alternatively, drive 25km north of Velddrif through Dwarskersbos to
Rocher Pan Nature Reserve, a wild coastal strip based around a seasonal
vlei (or pan) – a wonderful place to see Great White Pelicans and
Lesser Flamingos, which are all threatened species – but you wouldn’t
think so! They spend much time feeding here, flying north to Botswana
and Namibia to breed. From the pristine beaches you’ll also see
seasonal whales and dolphins. Entry fee is minimal and the reserve is
open daily from 7am till dusk.
Whatever your needs in the avifaunal field, the West Coast offers you
the opportunity to list a ‘lifer”.
MARVELLING AT OUR MARINE MAMMALS
The following descriptions are taken from articles published by courtesy of Dolphin Action and Protection Group’s (DAPG) Dolphin Whale Watch and edited by Meredith Thornton of the University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute (“MRI”). They include information on strandings garnered from Whales and Dolphins of the Southern African Subregion by Dr Peter Best, Extraordinary Professor at the MRI. In particular I would like to thank Meredith, who has been an inspiration to me personally. Her patience in reading through the article (over and over again so that I got it right) is highly appreciated.
Bryde’s Whale was named after a Norwegian businessman, Johan Bryde (pronounced “brew-der”), who was one of the financiers of the SA Whaling Company land station at Durban in 1908 and later expanded the company’s operations to Donkergat, Saldanha, in 1909. It was in 1912 that he financed the first scientific investigation of whales in Southern African waters which showed that a local whale species, previously described from a skeleton found in Burma in 1878 and named B. edeni (in honour of Sir Ashley Eden, Chief Commissioner of Burma at that time), was in fact a new species. Previously, Bryde’s whales had been confused with sei whales, whose external features they closely resemble.
Distribution of this species is worldwide in temperate and sub-tropical warm waters between 40°N and 40°S. Off South Africa, as in other areas, there appear to be two populations: one resident inshore over the continental shelf and another, which is migratory, found off the shelf edge. Whales from these two populations differ in size, scarring, baleen (horny plates growing from the palate – in their case numbering about 280 on either side of the top jaw) shape and reproductive behaviour.
They grow to an average length of 12 m and their weight averages about 12 000 kg, with a maximum of 20 000 kg. Their coastal distribution is recorded mainly between East London and Cape Point, although sightings have been made beyond but taper off after Cape Columbine in the west and Port St John’s in the east and more likely to be encountered at sea than close to shore.
Once thought to be a cold-hearted killer, the orca – as in Free Willy - or killer whale (Orcinus orca), to give it its correct name – and just to clear up any misunderstanding, it is a dolphin, not a whale! - is one of the only cetaceans that live on warm-blooded animals. Today we know that its much maligned reputation is fable not fact, thanks to the many studies and films made about their biology and to see these beautifully marked creatures in the wild is an experience that will remain with one forever.
Says Meredith, “There are three different types of killer whales: transients that are mostly mammal eaters, residents that are fish eaters and the offshore type that probably do both! We suspect that the ones occurring off our coast are the mammal eating type.” The group (pod) is cohesive and consists of the same individuals (males, females and juveniles) that travel together throughout the year and over a period of at least seven years. They are co-operative hunters and a typical pod ranges in size from single animal to about 50 animals. Found worldwide, they are more abundant in Arctic and Antarctic waters where the food source is guaranteed: fish, cephalopods and other cetaceans, seals and seabirds.
They are the super-chargers of the sea and are capable of swimming at speeds of 50 kph and can dive to depths of 250 m. Their ‘spyhopping’ (lifting the head vertically above the surface of he water) gives them a clear view of what’s around them and their ‘breaching’ (leap out of the water) and ‘lobtailing’ (slapping of their flukes on the water’s surface – a sound which carries for a considerable distance) are behaviours which may be used to communicate, navigate and herd their prey.