There is magic in some animals. We are awed by rhinos, leopards, lions and elephants and, while South Africans may sometimes become blasé about zebras and giraffes, the gentle giants of the deep, with their air of mystique, remain ever enthralling. Is it then any wonder that, during the months of June to December, people flock to the Garden Route in hopes of spotting the endangered Southern Right Whale, the Humpback Whale or Bryde’s Whales.
There are as many as 37 species of whales and dolphins off the South African coast. While many of these can be seen throughout the year, during our winter months, when southern right whales migrate from the cold Antarctic waters to the warmer Indian Ocean, and humpback whales migrate to tropical and subtropical waters to mate and give birth, whale watching is a rewarding adventure for young and old alike.
In South African waters you’ll find mainly three species of whales: Bryde’s Whales can be spotted all year round although they do tend to be more elusive and keep further offshore. The curious Humpback Whale migrates past the Garden Route from May to December and will often provide the most spectacular sightings, especially from boat-based whale watching. Southern Right Whales spend the lease time in our waters. They can be seen from June to November when they come to bear their young and nurse their calves in the calm waters of our natural bays. Like elephants it is knowledge passed on from mother to calf through the ages.
It is also possible to spot the occasional orca but these sightings are reserved for the lucky.
For those who prefer terra firma beneath their feet, land-based whale watching is possible from almost anywhere in the Garden Route. The little town of Witsand, where the Breede River mouths into the Indian Ocean at Saint Sebastian Bay, may be one of the best places in the world to spot nursing Southern Right Whales with only the Península Valdés.
The best spots to view whales in Stilbaai is either the harbour or, for those who like their creature comforts around, the restaurant in Lappiesbaai. In Mossel Bay, make your way to The Point or Rheebok. Herold’s Bay and Victoria Bay both offer great vantage points while you will be hard pressed to find a better spot than Dolphin Point just outside Wilderness for a clear view far out to sea. Gericke’s Point, outside Sedgefield, offers great whale watching, while Buffalo Bay is not only a haven for surfers but is also a playground for these ocean dwellers. Don’t forget about Brenton-on-sea or the Knysna Heads. The Robberg Peninsula, Beacon Isle, Lookout Beach and Harkerville are all excellent viewing points in Plettenberg Bay, while Nature’s Valley offers the unrivalled spot at the Storms River Mouth.
In all these places you will be able to see whales with the naked eye but your viewing pleasure will be greatly enhanced by a pair of binoculars. Watch out for the following:
- Blowing – the sound the whale makes when expelling air through its blowhole, which is accompanied by a spout of condensed water vapour; this is the normal breathing pattern of the mammal.
- Breaching – the whale leaps out of the water and falls back in with a large splash; whales can breach three to eight times in succession and the behaviour is believed to be a means of communication, exercise or possibly to scratch the parasites off that live on them.
- Lobtailing – the whale slaps its fluke or tail on the water, causing a loud sound; again, it is believed to be a means of communication.
- Spy hopping – the whale lifts its head and body vertically, as far as the flippers, above the surface, which allows it to see what is happening around it above water.
For those who want a whale watching experience involving more of the senses, there is probably no better option that taking a boat-based whale watching tour. Boats are not allowed to approach whales within 300 meters with the exception of the few South African Boat Based Whale Watching Association or SABBWWA licensed operators within the Garden Route who may get as near as 50 meters from these giants.
You will find these SABBWWA licensed operators in:
Romonza Boat Trips
You can contact them on 044 690 3101
Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Romonza-Boat-Trips-903412249686950/
Or visit their web page at http://romonzaboattrips.co.za/
You can contact them on 044 382 0321 / 082 852 9402
Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/knysnawhalewatching/
Or visit their website at http://www.oceanodyssey.co.za/
You can contact them on 082 784 5729’
Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/oceansafaris1/
Or visit their website at http://www.oceansafaris.co.za/
Ocean Blue Adventures
You can contact them on 044 533 5083 or 083 701 3583
Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/OceanBlueAdven/
Or visit their website at: http://oceanadventures.co.za/
Illustration: Paper Tales – www.papertales.co.za