A South African Botanist Photographs a Leaping Dolphin - Observation of the Week, 3/30/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Heaviside's Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus heavisidii), seen off of South Africa by @nicky!

Nicola Jane van Berkel (“Nicky”) grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has always loved nature. “As a child I picked flowers wherever I could,” she recalls,

These got spread out on the dining room table to see how many different ones I had collected on an outing. I also tried to grow cuttings and was fascinated by the roots growing from the ends of African Violet leaves perched on the edges of jam jars on my windowsill, next to sprouting avocado pips suspended above water. My father gave me charge of a flowerbed in our garden.  Into this I planted all sorts of cuttings begged from family and friends, some survived, many died. One highlight of my childhood was a trip to Namaqualand with my grandmother.

That passion for plants was still there when she and her husband Fred lived in Namaqualand and Namibia. She took nature photos (on slide film!) and collected specimens for the Compton Herbarium, which brought her in contact with botantists from all over the world. After several years of correspondence work, she eventually earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Botany and Geography through UNISA

A few weeks ago Nicky accompanied her granddaughters and family on the Jolly Roger Pirate Boat out of Cape Town, which is where she photographed the leaping Heaviside’s Dolphin you see above. “The dolphins followed us playing in the waves,” she recalls, 

[and] my granddaughters loved watching the dolphins, waiting to see if they could spot them when they surfaced. I did not know whether I had managed to photograph any of them until I downloaded my pictures onto my computer.  There were quite a few pictures of only sea! I did not know that we had been in the company of a Near Threatened species until my pictures were identified on iNaturalist! This was one of the many occasions that I have become aware that something I photographed was something special as a result of this wonderful program.

As Nicky mentioned, Heaviside’s Dolphins are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN, which among other threats says they’re “one of the cetacean species most at risk from large perturbations associated with global climate change.” These small (less than 2 meters in length) dolphins range from the Cape Peninsula north to southern Angola and their main prey are juvenile hake.

Soon after she and her husband retired and moved to Brenton-on-Sea, Nicky (above, on the Jolly Roger) joined the Outramps, which is a branch of CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers), and monitors plants in the Southern Cape. CREW members were encouraged by SANBI to record their findings to iSpot and she then migrated to iNat along with much of the southern African community several years ago. Her 30,000 plus observations span over twenty years of photography, and she says

I feel that it is particularly important to record as much as we can of the organisms in our natural environment, which is rapidly eroding, so that future generations know what was here. iNaturalist is a great way to share these records. It is also an excellent platform to get identifications. I am so grateful to all the experts that help with identification of my numerous postings. Even though my library is extensive, there is a lot it does not cover, for example - dolphins!

Photo of Nicky was taken by her husband, Ferdinand van Berkel.

Posted on March 31, 2021 05:02 AM by tiwane tiwane


Congratulations Nicky. A well deserved accolade.

Posted by outrampsjenny over 2 years ago

Congrats Nicky.
What an amazing contribution you make to record our plants and your macro shots are famous!
You are an inspiration to so many of us.
Doe so voort....

Posted by sandraf over 2 years ago

Baie lekker! I've seen these dolphins from a kayak so no spectacular shots for me - yet.

Great to see a piece of home featured on Observation of The Week!

Posted by dinofelis over 2 years ago

Well done, sister.

Posted by piers_pirow1 over 2 years ago

Superstar Nicky!!!!
Not only flowers and bugs....now also special dolphin!
Salutations and congrats on this sighting of the week.

Posted by christiners over 2 years ago

Well done Nicky! Good work!

Posted by susanhewitt over 2 years ago

Well done Nicky!

Posted by colin25 over 2 years ago

Congratulations Nicky! :D

Posted by muisvoel over 2 years ago

Nice shot! Glad you got to see these beautiful creatures.

Posted by sciencegirl02 over 2 years ago

Great stuff Nicky! Never stop snappin'

Posted by bushboy over 2 years ago

What a sighting Nicky, many thanks.

Posted by geoffnichols over 2 years ago


Posted by shaunthesheep over 2 years ago

I love Dolphins! Kudos! I love hearing other's stories and am happy for you.

Posted by walkingstick2 over 2 years ago

Wonderful story, and a photo of a Near Threatened species as well...thank you for sharing.

Posted by roserobin over 2 years ago

That's brilliant Nicky! 👏

Posted by monkymac over 2 years ago

That's brilliant Nicky! 👏

Posted by monkymac over 2 years ago

Very nice Nicky!

Posted by tonyrebelo over 2 years ago

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