Rare Dwarf Sperm Whale Arrives in Cape Town

The smallest of all the whale species—a dwarf sperm whale—made its way into Cape Town’s waterfront harbour this week.

The almost never-seen diminutive whale is smaller than a dolphin, and not much bigger than a man, which is amazing when you consider that sperm whales reach 52 feet in length—about the size of a bus.

Dwarf sperm whales are also deep sea mammals, preferring to swim beyond the continental shelf and diving deep into the mid-levels of the ocean to hunt and eat squid with their wide toothy mouths.

It was incredibly rare to see this little animal so far from its usual habitat, flopping around the harbour amongst thousands of summer holiday goers.


The whale seemed oddly placid in the water, floating on the surface, and occasionally diving down and appearing in a different area of the harbour.

I initially thought it might be sick or injured (it did have a few cuts on its face), but after researching its habits, it seems that these whales are generally very placid on the surface of the water. It’s cousin, the pygmy sperm whale, was historically known by the Japanese as a ‘floating whale’ because of its tendency to slowly rise to the surface and remain motionless for a while before diving again.

It’s possible that the whale just found its way into the Cape Town harbour and was enjoying the calm waters, before heading back out into the deep Atlantic, though we’ll wait to see if it needs help in escaping the harbour walls.



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Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: paul@paulsteyn.com Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram
  • John Withey

    The apartment we are staying in overlooks the I&J area of the Waterfront Harbour. We have seen the whale you have identified a couple of times in the last few weeks – first on 2 November, then on last Friday and then yesterday evening at about 5 pm. We have been wondering what it was and now feel very privileged to have seen such a rare mammal.
    I have some photos if you want to add them to your album.
    John Withey

  • Inge

    We were in the harbor at 12 november in the morning and spotted this weird creature! Asked lots of people who worked there but they didn’t recognize this animal.
    We got it on video together with a seal that was swimming around him and good photo’s (with the same marks on his head) now we know we have seen a real whale, thank you!

  • Ibanina

    I heard about the whale on Cape Talk & went down to have a look. I was so pleased to see it swimming by the pleasure boats & was told that when the boat engines start up, it moves away from the boats.
    I went back on 3 different days & was lucky to see it each time. it is always a privilege to see rare or unusual animals.

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