Whale Watching South Africa
South Africa is one of the finest destinations worldwide for Whale Watching. Whales specifically can be watched from boats, cliffs and beaches. Roughly 37 whale species is found in the waters of South Africa. Two of the famous but rarest species such as the Humpback Whales and Southern Right Whales migrate each year, reaching South Africa in June. These whales escape from the ice grounds of Antarctica to warmer waters in South Africa. The coastal waters of South Africa are crowded with whales that breed, calves, play and nurses their young ones. Whale Watching along the coast of South Africa one will undoubtedly enjoy spectacular water acrobatic displays. Hermanus is without a doubt the whale capital of South Africa. No visit to Cape Town during whale season is completed, without visiting Hermanus for a whale watching experience.
The best time for watching these whales along the coast of South Africa is from June to November. Calving season vary’s from July to August, although whales can be seen through September and October. The Humpback Whale is known to be seen between May and December, while moving up along the coast of Hermanus to St Lucia in Kwazulu-Natal. The Bryde’s Whale together with Orca's are spotted year round. The Marine Living Resource Act of 1998 allows boats to approach whales closer than 300 meters, only with a valid permit. Whale watching cruises need to have a permit before entering a 300 m radius from the whale, to ensure as little interference occurs. Southern Rights visit Plettenberg Bay from June to November. Migratory Humpbacks are seen from May and June, on their return trip from November to January. Cape Agulhas is a spectacular spot to watch whales, as there are sometimes up to 50 whales playing in the water's.
The South African whale-watching territory runs from Doringbaai, around the Cape Peninsula up the East Coast known as St Lucia, nearby the Mozambique border. On the whale-route a number of famous protected areas is found such as Table Mountain National Park, Garden Route, Tsitsikama National Park, Transkei National Park and iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
These magnificent animals spend up to five months a year in the sheltered bays of the Western Cape Coast. Such bays include Strandfontein, Lambert’s Bay, Elands Bay, St Helena, Saldanha and Ysterfontein. In Cape Town itself, whales are seen from Victoria Road, the road that goes along the coast of False Bay. At Cape Vidal and St Lucia one may enjoy whale-watching from the beach should you not participate on a boat based excursion, tourists can spend hours watching in astonishment as these mammals play and breach. Hermanus offers a lot of land-based whale watching, where the whales can clearly be seen from cliffs. The Whale Crier informs the town of the arrival of the whales and where they may be seen. The adventure junkies can enjoy an aerial whale watching experience. From the southernmost tip of Africa where the Two Enormous Oceans meet cows and calves play, up to 50 pairs at a time.
In Mossel Bay whales can be seen from June to November, four species enter the bay to calve and raise their calves in save waters. The southern right whale, humpback whale and Bryde’s or Orca's are seen from the beaches in Mossel Bay. Killer whales are spotted occasionally between May and December around the Western coastline of South Africa.
The Eastern Cape Wild Coast have several lookout point's where Humpbacks, Bryde’s, Minke and Killer Whales may be seen. Humpback Whales and Southern Rights are seen daily off the coast of Kwazulu-Natal. From mid-May to mid-September the wales are moving north to the coast of Mozambique for breeding purposes. Their ideal time to return varies from September to December, when they head to the nutrient-rich waters of Antarctica. Whales head for the sea channels between Mozambique and Madagascar while passing the coastline of Kwazulu-Natal. There are approximately 37 species of whales and dolphins found in South African waters, but the most common whales to be found are humpback whales and southern right whales. Watching whales in their natural environment is an experience you can’t miss.
Whales spend up to 90% of their lives below the water. Southern right whales were named after the fact that they move very slow and were known as the “right” whale to hunt. Humpback whales are known as the most confident whales of them all, they can be identified by their robust bodies. Clear, windless days are the best days for whale watching along the coastline of South Africa. Whale watching season overlaps with the wildflower season in the Western Cape, the perfect opportunity to enjoy a spectacle of wildlife events all in one trip.
Whale Watching South Africa
Whales in South Africa
Whales spend the majority of their lives below the water, taking on stormy waters day by day. Thus we know very little about these gigantic mammals of the deep sea. In May 2017 scientists reported spotting as many as 200 humpbacks at a time gathering off the coastline of South Africa. This is believed to be very rarely seen, as whales are known to be loners. Whales are usually seen in groups of three to mostly four, but to witness 200 at a time is astonishing. Research groups where knocked off their feet, as humpbacks only visit the colder waters of South Africa in the winter months. The main purpose of them migrating is to feed on shrimps, plankton and small fish. According to these professionals, the whales stayed in the southern waters to feed, instead of migrating north. The availability of a food source was seen as the biggest reason for their behavior.
Hunting of Whales
Commercial whale hunting in the early 19th and 20th century had a big impact on the humpback whale population. Fewer than 2000 humpback whales were left. In 1966 the hunting of whales was banned by The International Whaling Commission, and the Endangered Species Act protected humpback whales in 1973. The humpback whale population remain growing until today, with as many as 60,000 animals.
The humpback whale is one of the biggest marine mammal ever to be found. Humpback whales are also known as baleen whales, as they follow the same carnivore diet. In spring their long journey to their feeding grounds starts. The travel to the coastline of South Africa to stock up on food, relax and get ready for the next mating season. Humpback whales are seen as the most diverse eaters, as they follow a very large diet. This diet consists of anything from squid, krill, herring, Pollock, haddock, mackerel, capelin, salmon and a variety of other fish. Baby humpbacks start their diet by consuming milk, suckled from their mother’s nipple, until on their own.
Since humpback whales is a Baleen whale it does not have any teeth, thus they need to use a variety of hunting methods to capture food. One technique that they use often is the bubble netting technique, a group activity that include up to a dozen humpback whales. One group will swim below a large group of fish, forming a circle to herd the fish together. They then start blowing bubbles to surround the circle of fish and squeeze them into a tight herd. Other whales in the group dive deeper and force fish to upward, collecting them from the bottom of the sea and trap them in the bubble net. They take turns to swim through the school of fish, consuming as many fish as possible, filter feeding themselves. Filter feeding consist of baleen whales swimming towards a group of fish with their mouths open. The hairs in the mouth act as a filter, catching the prey in the hair and allow's water to filter through. After collecting a group of fish, excess water is pushed out the mouth with its tongue, while the prey is still trapped inside. The moment the water is expelled; the whale can swallow its food.
Humpback whales can fast for long periods of time during winter months, although they consume large amounts of food at a time. Whales fast, and live from fat that is stored during summer months. During the winter months’ whales focus primarily on mating and spend very little time on hunting for food. During mating seasons, whales spends months traveling to their mating grounds, performing mating formalities, giving birth and socializing.
Whales, just like common mammals need to breath air, give birth and are warm blooded. The gestational period for the female whale is similar to human pregnancy. The only difference is that whale gestational periods last significantly longer than humans. An average gestational period for whales can range from 10 to 18 months. Once the female becomes pregnant, she carries the baby upto 18 months in her uterus. The most common time for them to offspring is during the cold winter months. Male whales compete against each other for the right to mate with a female in mating season. The aggression will vary from once specie to another. Some species will show off their youthfulness by carrying out acrobatic stunts or charging one another. Other species will sing to females to attract them. After a few months of mating they return to their feeding grounds. Some whales will take long travels to other locations, while others will feed and mate in the same environments.
Whale Watching South Africa
Whale Migration WorldWide
Migration is the seasonal movement of whales from one place to another. Whales migrate long distances between breeding and feeding grounds. Whales can travel from North to South, between onshore and offshore and some do both. Of the 80 species of whales, each have their own movement patterns. Whales migrate to colder poles during the summer and to tropical waters during winter. This movement makes it possible for whales to benefit from productive feeding grounds in cooler water during summer, and when productivity reduces, migrate to warmer waters to give birth to calves.
Not all whales migrate, juvenile humpbacks are not allowed to migrate until they are mature enough to reproduce. They will rather stay in cooler waters and exploit the prey. Whale species that are well known for their migration patterns includes gray whales, which migrate between Alaska and Russia. The north Atlantic right whales move between the cold water of Northeast US and Canada to the waters of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Humpback whales only move between the Northeast feeding grounds and the southern breeding grounds. Blue whales migrate from California to Mexico and Costa Rica.
When it comes to the migration of whales, it is important to realize that not all whales travel for the same reason. Most whale's migrate for feeding or mating. Their migrating patters will show that they travel to cooler waters during summer and warmer habitats during winter. Other species are more worried about food supplies and will migrate in order to maintain their food supply. Whales that travel for this specific reason will travel wherever their prey migrate too. Some whales follow normal migrating patterns, while others will follow fairly predictable travelling patterns, they go whatever direction suits them best. Lastly there are whales that do not make use of any migration patterns, they inhibit the same environment all year and only travel short distances.
Humpback whales are migratory; therefore, they travel the longest distance of any animal. During feeding season, they are found near the upper and lower hemispheres in order to gather food. They may travel distance's of 16,000 miles during these trips. During migration they only live of fat stored, and do not consume any food. Killer whales on the other hand only migrate towards places with food sources. They will follow seals and sea lions to their locations, as they are seen as prey. Sperm whales are travelers and go wherever the wind blows them, travelling the world. Bowhead whales maintain a fixed location all year, they only take on short trips. The gestational period of whales does have an impact on their migrating behavior. The killer whale has one of the longest gestational periods that last up to 17 months, thus they do not travel long distances in order to give birth any time of the year. The narwhal and beluga whale’s gestational periods exceeds a 11 to 12-month cycle, they only travel from one area to another within their respective grounds. If they should choose to migrate over longer distances, they might experience difficulty when giving birth in an unknown location. Humpback and blue whales do not have such a problem, as their gestational period is between 11 to 12 months, thus they give birth in different environments. This simple reproduction process gives newborns the opportunity to be born in warm and safe environments.
Gray whales tend to have migration trips, of 10,000 – 12,000 miles from their breeding ground back to their feeding grounds. In 2015 a gray whale broke the migration record when she traveled from Russia to Mexico and back again, a total of 13,988 miles in 172 days. Humpback whales are also known to travel long distances, in 1986 a humpback traveled from the Antarctic Peninsula to Columbia in almost four months, which is more than 5,100 miles. Not all whales travel as close to shore as gray whales and humpback whales.
Sperm whales are found throughout the major oceans. They do not stick to a determined migration pattern. Female sperm whales travel with their young, circling the ocean, searching for food. Female sperm whales inhibit warmer waters, while male sperm whales enjoy the Arctic, they meet each other in the middle near Azores. Female whales give birth in tropical climate throughout the year. Male sperm whales wander through the oceans and may end up travelling the world in their 70-year life cycle.
The Antarctic minke whale follow a seasonal migration pattern to feeding areas in the poles during spring and to the tropical waters during autumn. The difference in timing of seasonal migration by different whale species, prevent the species from mixing. Migration is a common behavior for marine mammals, a tool they use for survival.