• Angie Gullan

Pygmy Killer Whales in Ponta do Ouro!

On the 15th October 2020, in the coastal shallows of the Ponta do Ouro Marine Reserve an unusual sighting of a small pod of Pygmy Killer Whales (Feresa attenuata) was had making this the second sighting of this deep water species recoded by the Dolphin Team in 25 years. The area, which borders the South African iSimangaliso World Heritage site is home to a number of marine mammal species including dolphins and whales that are seen throughout the year.

Images: Pygmy Killer Whales approaching the boat.

This particular observation of the PKW’s took place in shallow waters at 08:35, lasted 20 minutes and included 4 individuals whom we at first thought were adult male bottlenose dolphins about to merge with the nursery pod we were observing, until the pod scattered! Within the nursery group of dolphins, two newborns were sighted and after 7 months of being landbound our team was eager to capture dorsal fin images and observe who of our local #dolphinsofponta were there. Sadly this was not made possible as the nursery pod fled into the protection of the waves with the group of four PKW’s hot on their tails. The dolphins soon disappeared and it was only after a humpback whale, accompanied by her calf cut across the bow of our boat Avalon, heading towards the PKW’s did they then move offshore and disappear.

Images: Top - Dolphin fleeing into backline; Bottom - Local Dolphins of Ponta Tatti and Gandalf

Pygmy Killer Whales are a deep water species, are rarely encountered and are one of the least studied cetaceans. Their diet generally consists of various fish species and squid and according to Dr Peter Bests writings have been seen to stalk dolphins with calves - giving them a somewhat sinister reputation, leaving us wondering if this is indeed what was happening.

This species reaches a maximum of around 2.5m and is distinguishable by their roundish pectorals, dark dorsal fins and a bright white ventral patch that extends to the chin and lips. This un-beaked whale has a rounded head unlike dolphins and a mouth full of sharp teeth!

Images: L - The white lips of the Pygmy Killer Whale R - A rare in-water encounter had by Angie Gullan

During our August 2018 encounter a much larger pod of around 20 individuals were seen offshore traveling north, pictured above. This marks the third sighting in Mozambique of this interesting species - with the first recorded by Gay Allport whilst out on an informal survey for sea birds in 2017 off the coast of Maputo Bay. The first authenticated record of Pygmy Killer Whale (Feresa attenuata Gray 1874) in Mozambique; has it been previously overlooked?

To find out how you can join us in Ponta do Ouro for a unique marine mammal experience with Africa's pioneer wild dolphin encountour, research & conservation project please email Angie: connect@dolphinencountours.org.

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Main Beach, Ponta do Ouro, next to Beach Bar & launch-site

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