Between June and November each year – give or take a couple of months at each end, South Africa‘s coastal waters become calving and mating grounds for whales that migrate here annually from icy Antarctic waters. Once secure in sheltered bays or close to river mouths, these immense creatures give birth to their young and then proceed to enter courtship, but the bonds that endure are those between mother and calf.
The Whale Route
Faithfully, the whales return to our waters, year after year, never failing to delight scores of visitors with their graceful antics. How exciting it is to watch the breaching, blowing and lob-tailing of these incredible giants, so huge yet apparently unable to swallow as much as a tennis ball!
South Africa’s Whale Route includes almost 2 000 kilometres of coast, extending from Doringbaai, south of Cape Town and along the coast as far as Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. Popular viewing areas in the Western Cape include the Cape Peninsula; the seaside holiday towns of Hermanus, Gansbaai and Arniston; De Hoop Nature Reserve near Bredasdorp; and Mossel Bay, Wilderness, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay along the Garden Route. Towns along the rugged West Coast also offer great viewing.
Big on whales, the vibrant holiday town of Hermanus hosts an annual Whale Festival, with a Whale Crier at hand to herald the day’s sightings. Festival days are packed with music, theatre and lots of play.
Get on the wonderful whale trail and base yourself at a stylish Exclusive Getaways property. Enjoy good food and wine and a touch of indulgence between whale-watching excursions.
The southern right whale
Close to 40 species of whales and dolphins occur in South African waters, most commonly among them the southern right whale and humpback whale. Bryde’s whale and the orca, or killer whale, are somewhat less abundant; and incidentally, the orca whale is in fact a dolphin by classification!
There’s a sad tale about how the southern right whale got its name, and the story goes that in the days of whale hunting, these were the ‘right’ animals to hunt, due to the sought-after whale oil they provided and because their bodies remained afloat after harpooning. Since hunting of the southern right was terminated, their numbers are estimated to have grown by 7% a year.
Adult female southern rights are larger than their male counterparts, reaching lengths of about 16.5 metres, in contrast with the males who grow to about 15 metres. These animals reach their characteristic immensity on a daily intake of 600 kilograms of their favourite plankton “sushi”.
Boat-based whale watching offers plenty of exhilaration. Book your trip with a licensed operator, who is allowed to take you close enough for awesome viewing, while reserving a 300m radius of unimpeded territory for the whales.
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