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Whale Watching Season is Here: Where to Spot Our Ocean’s Gentle Giants

There is nothing quite as awe-inspiring as witnessing a whale breach, fluke, spout or
otherwise frolic in our deep blue oceans. Catch all the cetacean action up close during our annual whale season, when these majestic mammals migrate from their feeding grounds in Antarctica to the warmer waters of our Cape coastline to mate and birth their calves – treating visitors to a spectacular show of water acrobatics. Get ready to point your camera, click and ‘oooh’ in admiration.

What You’ll See
Southern Right Whales dominate the seas during the season that peaks from August to October each year, but Humpback Whales, pods of dolphins and even the occasional Orca have been spotted too.

The stars of the show, our baleen Southern Right Whales (named so by whale hunters as they were considered the ‘right’ whales to hunt when it was sadly legal to do so), can be distinguished by their callosities – barnacle covered skin patches on their heads and around their long, arching mouths. They’re black in colour, approximately 15 metres in length, weigh in at a whopping 80 tonnes and are characteristically devoid of a dorsal fin, but can be seen waving their flukes (tail fins) out the water to catch the wind, in a playful manoeuvre known as ‘sailing’.

Mommy whales in our Walker Bay ‘nursery’ can often be seen just a few metres from shore, where they play with their young, touching, rolling over one another or casually draping a flipper over their backs, Males, in their bid for a mate, might be seen ‘huffing’, twisting and rollicking in competition.

The Hermanus Whale Festival: 29 September – 1 October 2017
Voted as one of the top twelve whale-watching locations in the world by the WWF, the
coastal town Hermanus is South Africa’s definitive whale capital. With some spectacular viewpoints from the land and festival that adds a little extra magic to the mammalian excitement, this is where you want to be.

Walk the 12km scenic clifftop route with explanatory signage or knowledgeable guide,
before stopping at Gearing’s Point where you’ll have the best view of Hermanus’ Old Harbour. If you’d like to get a little closer, get down to the new harbour where you can catch a boat or even kayak trip out into the open water. For something truly special, book a Cessna flight over the coast, for an aerial view of the whales in their ‘secret’ spots, as well as our surrounding mountains and white beaches.

Hermanus also boasts the world’s only whale crier, who alerts townsfolk on land when
whales have been sighted by blowing on a loud kelp horn. Meet him in person and interpret his calls by reading his accompanying sandwich board.

As for the festivities themselves, there is a spotlight on both the recreational and
educational fun – with the festival classified as the only Eco-Arts festival in South Africa.

Indulge in mouth-watering treats at the food stalls, browse the locally-made crafts at the sprawling market and stay for the live music. There is also a vintage car show, an orchid and clivia display for flower enthusiasts and sporting events all weekend long. Little ones are catered for with treasure hunts, fairground rides, art classes and magic shows, while the whole family might enjoy the town float parades.

Attend the Eco-Marine talks and learn more about our precious marine life, conservation efforts and fascinating animal behaviours, in presentations by shark and marine biologists, conservationists and wildlife veterinarians.

View the official whale festival website for the full programme of events and activities. Note that the Whale Festival is a free event with no ticket purchasing required for general entrance.

Grab a Bite
Those in search of a sit-down seafood lunch should book a table at the famed Bientang’s Cave. Created out of a traditional cave previously inhabited by a Koi Strandloper of the same name, the restaurant spills out onto the rocks of Walker Bay in Hermanus, where you might get a side order of whale watching with your Cape Seafood Curry.

Whale Tales Lingo
Think you may have spotted one of our magnificent sea dwellers? Look out for these tell- tale signs.

  • Blowing or spouting – the sound a whale makes when expelling air through its
    blowhole, usually visible by the spray of vapour you’ll see at the surface.
  • Breaching – that beautiful leap a whale makes of the water, falling back in with a
    large splash; believed to be a means of communication, exercise or possibly to
    scratch off any parasites.
  • Lobtailing – the whale slaps its fluke (tail) on the water, causing a loud sound that
    may be heard from some distance away.
  • Spy hopping – the whale lifts one eye or its head above water, allowing it to see
    what is happening around it (commonly seen around boats).

Blog post by: Tarah Darge

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