South Africa

Stony Point, Bettys Bay

Les Underhill
Animal Demography Unit

  Stony Point
Photo L.G. Underhill
First view of the Stony Point penguin colony from the car park. The colony is close to the old lighthouse on the point of land. The last remains of a wrecked whaler, the Balena, are visible

The penguin colony at Stony Point started in 1982. For the first few years, it was possible to walk into the colony and inspect the penguins at close quarters. In spite of this disturbance, the colony grew steadily each year. By 1986, there were about 40 nests. In December of this year, a Leopard attacked the colony, and killed 50 penguins on the night of 18 December and 15 the next night, including one of the original pair that had founded the colony. In response to this, a fence was constructed, with the objective of keeping people and other predators outside the colony. The colony has subsequently grown to about 150 pairs. In spite of the fence, there have been subsequent visits by Leopards, and other smaller predators, such as the Water Mongoose and Large-spotted Genet, are also suspected to have taken their toll on the penguins.

Where did the penguins that started the Stony Point colony come from? It seems certain, from the results of flipper-banding, that most came from the colony at Dyer Island, 60 km farther east. Once penguins start breeding, they are extremely unlikely to switch colonies. So the colonists are most likely to be young penguins from Dyer Island that established themselves at Stony Point as breeding birds. The reasons why they did not do as most penguins do, and return to their natal island, are not clear. It might be due to a decrease in food availability around Dyer Island; it might also be attributable to predation by members of the increasing population of Cape Fur Seals on the neighbouring Geyser Island.

The growth rate of the Stony Point colony has been greater than what is possible given the number of young produced at the colony. The colony is sustained by ongoing immigration.

The first nests in the colony were in among the rocks at the tip of the Stony Point peninsula. As the colony increased in size, birds started to nest under thick vegetation on an adjacent sandy area. The penguin guano slowly killed these bushes, and birds chose nests sites farther away from the sea. Nowadays, there are substantial numbers of penguin nests outside the fenced off area. These birds are vulnerable to disturbance, especially from dogs. Plans are being made to increase the size of the protected area.

Whitebreasted Cormorant at Stony Point
Photo L.G. Underhill
Whitebreasted Cormorant on its nest. All four species of marine cormorant in southern Africa have been recorded breeding at Stony Point

Once the Stony Point area was fenced off in 1987 and disturbance reduced, cormorants started to breed there too. Within a few months, three of the four local species of marine cormorants, Whitebreasted, Bank and Crowned, were observed breeding. Cape Cormorants are regularly present at Stony Point, and do breed in some years. The cormorants mostly breed on the rocky section, near the old “lighthouse”, a relic from whaling days.

The old whaling station is about 300 m from the penguin colony, and the walk from the car park to the penguins passes the remains of the old buildings, and also the wreck of the Balena, alongside the old jetty (a launching ramp for ski-boats was built a decade ago, together with a new breakwater). Whaling started here in 1907, when the Southern Cross Whaling Station was established. There were no roads to the area at this time, and the four whalers based here were the only means of transport to and from the whaling station. The company had assorted owners, and whaling finally ceased in 1928, by which time the Southern Right Whale had more or less been hunted to commercial extinction.

Stony Point lies within the village of Bettys Bay, just east of Cape Hangklip, and about 90 km by road from Cape Town. The colony falls under the jurisdiction of the Overstrand Municipality. A small committee of interested residents assists the nature conservation officers of the municipality with the monitoring of the colony.

A history of the first 15 years of the penguin colony was written by Phil Whittington, Jan Hofmeyr and John Cooper, and was published as a scientific paper in the journal Ostrich: Whittington, P.A., Hofmeyr, J.H. & Cooper, J. 1996. Establishment, growth and conservation of a mainland colony of Jackass Penguins Spheniscus demersus at Stony Point, Betty’s Bay, South Africa. Ostrich 67: 144-150.

Stony Point
Photo L.G. Underhill
During the main moult period for the penguins, November and December, hundreds of moulting penguins gather just inside the fenced off area
Stony Point
Photo L.G. Underhill
View over the colony from the observation platform