Face to face with 1 000 dolphins

Big pod gives excited youth first glance at marine life

Wilderness Foundation Youth Development Programme students participating in AB Marine’s inaugural ecotourism guide excursion are, from left Sinazo Booi, 21, Carlo Coetzee, 21, Nonzukiso Mpofu, 20, and Mervin van der Ross, 21
Wilderness Foundation Youth Development Programme students participating in AB Marine’s inaugural ecotourism guide excursion are, from left Sinazo Booi, 21, Carlo Coetzee, 21, Nonzukiso Mpofu, 20, and Mervin van der Ross, 21
Image: Guy Rogers

A 1 000-strong pod of common dolphins patrolling Algoa Bay yesterday brought nature to life for a group of disadvantaged youths on board new whale-watching vessel AB Marine, moving one of them almost to tears.

AB Marine co-owner Rainer Schimpf was on the upper deck when he received a cellphone tip-off from one of the huge freighters anchored on the rim of the bay –” dolphins dead ahead”.

None of the six young passengers had been to sea before and none had ever seen a live dolphin. They crowded the rail excitedly, scanning the water.

The pod became visible in the middle distance as a strange washing machine swathe of white water and then as the boat drew alongside, details became clearer as the dolphins leapt and plunged through the swell.

Now and then a few peeled off and whizzed underwater across the boat’s bows as if playing a game.

There must have been 300-400 on the surface and the rule of thumb was that, for every onethird of a pod visible, two-thirds of the dolphins were concealed beneath the waves, Schimpf said.

The young passengers were entranced. Carlo Coetzee, 21, from Gelvandale, said he had never seen anything like it.
“It’s amazing. The dolphins are beautiful. It’s such a great feeling. I feel like I’m going to cry.”

Nonzukiso Mpofu, 20, from Missionvale, said the sighting and the trip had surpassed all her expectations. I’ve seen dolphins in books and on TV before, but seeing the way they move through the waves like this – they look alive to me for the first time.”

Mervin van der Ross, 21, from Robertson in the Western Cape, said he was more convinced than ever that he wanted to find a job involving animals.

“I want to help to protect them and to make a difference.”

AB Marine is co-owned by Schimpf and his wife Silke, who hold a 49% share , and who have a background in guiding international film crews on sardine run shoots through their scuba diving company Expert-Tours – and Phumeza Schumacher, who holds the remaining 51%.

Schumacher, a former municipal liaison officer, said yesterday she had been convinced by Schimpf’s passion and experience.

“I love nature and through AB Marine I am hoping to carry a positive message to my people, the black community. I want to help show off the sea to them and all it has to offer.”

Yesterday’s cruise served to launch the marine ecotourism guide training course which AB Marine will run in conjunction with its commercial boat-based whale watching tours.

AB Marine co-owners Phumeza Schumacher and Rainer Schimpf
AB Marine co-owners Phumeza Schumacher and Rainer Schimpf

The six youths involved in yesterday’s excursion were selected via Wilderness Foundation Africa’s youth development programme. The AB Marine course would source students from this programme and from Masifunde Learner Development and will comprise lectures, online courses and practical experience conveyed through excursions into the bay, Schimpf said.

“The aim is to train these young people to be marine tour guides but we believe our methodology via teaching them to be methodical, logical, to solve problems and to use computers will qualify them for other trades too. We are offering a National Qualifications Framework certificate that will allow them to work anywhere in the country.”

AB Marine charges R1 200 for adults for a three-hour trip in Algoa Bay and half price for kids under 14.

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