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Tips on whale watching in South Africa

In fact, in Hermanus there is a very useful ‘whale crier’ who blows a kelp trumpet whenever a whale is spotted – and some days he can be heard repeatedly when there are high numbers of whales in the bay!

However if your time is limited to just a few days or even hours, you may find these tips help you to enjoy and get the most from your whale watching excursion.

Whale watching tips

  • In South Africa, whales can be seen all the way from Cape Point, through False Bay and right up the Overberg coastline.
  • Book a whale watching boat trip with a reputable organisation – your hosts at any Portfolio establishment in a whale watching area should be able to assist you with this.
  • Choose clear, calm days
  • Prepare for your time at sea with sea sick tablets, warm clothes, sunscreen, hat and enough to eat and drink.
  • Once you’re out at sea, look for the blow of a whale - the cloud of spray or mist that appears as the air is exhaled through the blowhole. This is usually how whales are first seen.
  • Take a good pair of binoculars, but only use them once you’ve spotted the whale blow so you know where to train them.
  • If you see one – look closely for another close by. The southern right whales come to our waters to calve each year and it’s common to see a mom and baby together at this time.
  • Don’t expect the skipper of your boat to get too close to the whales, there are laws regarding the safe distance one must stay at when whale watching from a vessel.
  • Be sure to have plenty of battery life and card space on your camera.
  • For a good chance at a perfect shot, after a whale dives, do not concentrate on the exact area it went down. They rarely come back up in this spot. Instead, try to determine the direction it was moving in and have your camera pointed in the same direction. In other words, think like a whale.
  • If you are lucky enough to see a whale breach (leap right out of the water) keep your camera ready as sometimes they like to breach repeatedly and you have a good chance at a great shot. Be prepared to be patient though as they are as likely to breach once and then not again for hours!


5 fun facts about the southern right whale

1. Southern right whales (Eubalaena australis ) are about the size of a bus – they can weigh up to 80 tonnes and may reach 18 metres long.

2. The southern right whale has the largest testes and penis of any living thing

3. Southern right whales have horny growths called callosities on the top of the head, which form patterns. These are different for each individual, which is useful for researchers collecting info on whale behaviour, as they can easily differentiate between individuals.

4. Southern right whales can be seen tail lobbing, flipper slapping and even treading water (known as spy hopping). Logging is the term used for when they lie in the water not doing much – like a log!

5. Southern right whales protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act. It is estimated that the entire world population of southern right whales only numbers several thousand, compared to an original pre-whaling population of more than 100,000. Good news is that they reportedly recovering at a rate of about seven per cent each year.

(Information source)

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