Whale Watching in South Africa
Several species of whale come into False Bay and can be seen all along the coast from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.
Hermanus is probably the most famous area for whale watching between the months of August and November, and is considered the area for some of the best land based Whale watching in the world. Whale Species which can be viewed along the southern coast of South Africa include Bryde's Whales, Humpback Whales , Killer Whales , and the most common the Southern Right Whale. It is said that the whales particularly like Hermanus for the high calcium content in the water - although there are many different tales and rumours about why they are there.
Southern Right Whales got their name from the whalers of the 19 th century, because they were considered the "right" whale to kill. This was because these whales were particularly rich in oil, they are also slow swimmers so they were easy to catch, and because of the fat content in their giant bodies, when harpooned they floated and so were easy to handle.
Southern right whales are baleen whales. This means that they have 'plates' which hang down from the upper jaw like vertical venetian blinds, through which they filter their food - krill forms a large part of their diet. These plates may be over 2.5 meters long.
The most conspicuous feature of the Southern Right whales is the callosities on their faces - which many people think are barnacles. These provide homes for several other creatures, including 'whale lice', these creatures live on the callosities and feed off of the whales dead skin - another method the whales have of shedding there dead skin is to breach out of the water and the pressure when they hit the water again removes the dry skin, often there is some seagull activity around the whales when they are doing this, who will keep up all of the dead skin. Other things which distinguish the Southern Right whales are their V-shaped blows. Southern Right whales are black or dark grey in colour. They have no dorsal fin. They have a large, bow-shaped heads and arched mouths. Unusually, Southern Right whales are relatively hairy with hair on the tip of the lower jaw and on the upper jaw.
Southern Right whales can remain under water for about 6 minutes , they are fairly slow swimmers at around 6km being average. Although they can reach almost double that figure in short bursts.
Southern Rights Whales produce low frequency sounds to communicate with one another.
Although the lifespan of the Southern Right Whale is not established, it is thought that they can live in excess of 50 years.
The Southern Right Whale lives between latitudes 20° to 55°, occasionally venturing down to 63°. Although it is to be found throughout the southern oceans, in our part of the world it returns annually to the sheltered bays of the Southern African coast in order to give birth to there calves. In False Bay , between June and November it is most common to see these whales close to the shore.
During the summer months the Southern Right whales move to the cold and stormy waters of the Antarctic where it feeds on an abundance of krill and plankton.
As well as Hermanus, many of the small bays within False Bay are good for whale viewing too. Hout Bay offers very reasonably priced boat trips to Seal Island - where there is a colony of Cape Fur Seals (up to 5000 in the winter months) - during the whale season this is a popular bay for veiwing.