Whale & Dolphin watching in South Africa

Whale & Dolphin watching in South Africa
Whale & Dolphin watching in South Africa

South Africa and specifically the Western Cape is one of the best destinations worldwide for watching marine mammals, whether from land or from boat.

Every year, Southern Right whales migrate from their icy feeding grounds off Antarctica to warmer climates, reaching South Africa in June. Here they mate, calve and generally hang out, occasionally flopping a tail up, or sticking their heads out of the water.

Whale watching is generally done from June to November each year although it is not uncommon for whales to be spotted outside this period. Some 37 species of whales and dolphins are found in the South African waters, but most common is the Humpback whales and Southern Right whales. Humpback whales are similar in size to the Southern Right whales (about 15m), and are often seen off the South African coast between July and November as they move to Mocambique to calve and breed.

Whales, including the Southern Right Whale and less commonly the Bryde’s (pronounced 'broodess') and Humpback Whale, are frequently sited along the Cape Overberg Coast from Stony Point near Betty’s Bay, along the cliff paths of Kleinmond, Onrus, Walker Bay, the De Hoop Nature Reserve and Witsand. These gentle giants spend summer feeding around Antarctica and then migrate thousands of miles to our waters where the sheltered bays of the South African coast provide perfect refuge to mate and calve.

South African whale-watching territory runs from Doringbaai, south of Cape Town, all the way east as far as Durban. They can be viewed from cliffs and beaches, with boat operators offering trips out to sea for close encounters.   In Cape Town, you can see them from the road along the False Bay coast, and they're distinctly visible on the western seaboard if you get high enough.  On the Cape west coast, excellent sightings of southern rights can be enjoyed all the way from Strandfontein to Lambert's Bay, Elands Bay, St Helena, Saldanha and Ysterfontein, just north of Cape Town.

The entire Cape Overberg coastline offers generous sightings of the whales and the Walker Bay area, between Gansbaai and Hermanus, is a whale sanctuary. Hermanus arguably offers the best land-based whale watching in the world. For this position it competes only with Plettenberg Bay, further along the coast.

Hermanus claims to be the whale capital of the world - but so does Plettenberg Bay, further east, on the Western Cape Garden Route.  Witsand on the Garden Route is also well known as the Whale Nursery of South Africa.

Whales tend to show of in the following manner:

Blowing: A sound made when expelling air through the blowhole. This is accompanied by a spout of condensed water vapour. This however is the normal breathing pattern of the animal.

Breaching: Leaping out of water in an arching back flip and falling back on their sides or back with a resounding slap. This is believed to be a way of communication, exercise or possibly to scratch the parasites off that live on whales. They can breach form 3 to 8 times in succession.

Lobtailing: The slapping of flukes and tail on the water, causing a loud sound, appears to be a means of communication.

Spy hopping: The head and body are lifted vertically, as far as the flippers, above the surface. This enables them to see what is happening around them above water.

There are estimated to be about 3 000 - 4 000 southern right whales at present, with South Africa receiving the major percentage visiting its coasts annually. Present populations of southern right whales are a fraction of estimated initial stocks.