Each year Southern Right whales migrate into the coastal waters of the Western Cape to calve and nurse their young. The animals, often mere metres from the shore, provide unsurpassed whale watching opportunities between June and November. Humpbacks migrate through the region between May and December each year, while Bryde’s whales are found slightly further offshore all year round.
The Whale Route starts along the south of Cape Town and extends to Durban, 1,200 plus miles of whale watching coastline. The route traverses several famous protected areas, including the Garden Route, Tsitsikamma National Park, and the Transkei. At least 37 species of whales and dolphins can be found in the waters off South Africa.
Whale watching in South Africa is done from June to November, although it’s not uncommon for whales to be spotted outside this period. They pick some of the most beautiful stretches of our coast for their activities. Some of the best viewing spots include Lamberts Bay on the Cape West Coast, the Cape Peninsula, False Bay, Hermanus, Arniston, Mossel Bay, Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Some 37 species of whales and dolphins are found in South African waters, but the most common are the humpback whales and southern right whales (in spring), which are frequently encrusted with white barnacles. Humpback whales are similar in size to southern right whales (around 15m), and are often seen off the South African coast between July and November as they move to Mozambique to calve and breed, and to Antarctica, where they feed.
South Africa retains its position as the fifth fastest growing whale- watching destination in the world.Only 16 permits have been issued countrywide to ensure regulation of the industry and minimum intrusion on the whales who come to the warmer waters of the south to mate.
Whales, like dolphins communicate by means of sonar. They make clicking, grunting and whistling sounds which also act as a means of echolocation. These can be heard for miles under water, and can also be heard from above water. Whales are also thought to communicate by slamming their tails against the surface of the ocean which produces a loud splashing sound, an action called lobtailing. When whales breach, they are also thought to be communicating with other whales.
The absolute best way to enjoy whale watching in South Africa is to go on a whale-watching boat trip. The boats are big, comfortable and moderately dry. Boarding is easy and people in wheelchairs can be accommodated. In some cases, the prices of these whale watching boat trips can be quite high, but the chance to get within metres of whales at water-level is simply unforgettable.
When whales blow water out of the blowholes located near the top of the head it is known as spouting. Southern Right Whales have two blowholes which act as nostrils. When they blow water out of their blowholes a distinctive V-shaped cloud of vapour is produced largely by condensation when warm breath comes into contact with cooler air.
Hermanus is one of the finest places for South African whale watching. It is home of the Southern Right Whale which is named as such because it was considered to be the ‘right’ whale to catch. Whether it is the calm waters or their well-documented curiosity that brings them closer in, whales often come within a few meters of the shore.