Skeleton Coast & Cape Cross
For me, the idea of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast has always had a romantic tinge to it. Thoughts of pirates and ship wrecks and isolated, rugged coastline filled my head….and I wasn’t far off! I finally got to see the Skeleton Coast while on my Acacia Africa 19-day Desert Tracker tour of Southern Africa. Yippee!
The Skeleton Coast comprises the northern Namibian coastline from Angola in the north to the Swakop River in the south. The Skeleton Coast National Park fills an area of about 16,000 km² (6,200 mi²), with the top half of the national park designated as “wilderness area” by the state.
Bones on the Beach
Known as the “The Land that Made God Angry” by the original Bushmen inhabitants, Portuguese sailors referred to the Skeleton Coast as “The Gates of Hell.” The coastline earned these fearsome nicknames because of the harsh winds that blow from land to the sea and a deadly climate averaging no more than .39 inches of rainfall a year.
The coast is also enveloped much of the year by a thick fog and thundering surf which make it impossible for hand-powered ships to launch to sea from the shore (although they could land on shore). During the whaling period, ships often didn’t survive – hence the carcasses of ship strewn along the coastline and its infamous name: the Skeleton Coast.
Crossing the Coast
Cape Cross, part of the expanse of the Skeleton Coast, is an area protected by the Namibian government called the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. Cape Cross is named from the stone cross erected by Portuguese explorer Diego Cao in honor of King Johannes of Portugal in 1486.
In Portuguese seaman tradition, a cross was erected to mark the first spot they landed. The cross not only served as a sign of Christianity, but also as a landmark for passing ships and to symbolize the right of possession for the country of Portugal.
Seal Pups Aplenty
The Cape Cross Seal Reserve is home to one of the largest colonies of Cape Fur Seals in the world, numbering between 80,000-100,000 seals. Cape Fur Seals are actually a species of sea lion and live in 24 colonies along the South African and Namibian coastlines. Worldwide population is in the range of 650,000.
Cape Fur Seal bulls defend their territory for life and can reach up to 190 kilograms, although they can balloon up to 380 kilograms during the mating season in October. Much of this weigh is lost during the month they spending fighting off rival male intruders.
Each bull has between 5-25 cows in his harem. Cows are smaller, on average weighing only 75 kilograms It takes 8 months for cows to carry their pregnancy to term and they birth 1 pup each time. About 27% of pups die within the first year, mainly due to hyenas and jackals that snatch the pups when the mother returns to the sea to feed.
While the pups are pretty darn cute, I have to say the most memorable part of our Cape Cross expedition was the smell. Just think – almost 100,000 seals within the vicinity. Yowzah! I don’t care how cute you are — that’s some potent body odor!
These activities were part of my Acacia Africa 19-day Desert Tracker safari from Cape Town, South Africa to Livingstone, Zambia. It was an unforgettable experience and I highly recommend you check them out if you’re planning an Africa adventure!
This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 and is filed under Africa.