Whales are the world’s largest creatures and are truly incredible
experiences to see in their native environment. Whale watching
is an occurrence like no other, in which one can revel at the great
animal leaping from the ocean, or simply be stunned at the
immense movement of its colossal tail hitting the surface.
There are numerous places in the world where these creatures can be observed; however it is perhaps in South Africa where it is the most magical. This is for a number of reasons – the meeting of oceans causing the vast diversity of the species found in the area, the proximity of the whales to the shore, and the behaviours shown by the whales in the area.
South Africa: The Oceans’ Crossroads
As a country, South Africa is a unique intersection of two areas, these being the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. A meeting place is often considered a place for the exchanging of ideas, or a clash of two cultures. In the ocean however, one has a wonderful opportunity to see the integration of two different oceanic cultures, and therefore one of the most exciting places to watch whales in the world.
Due to the migratory patterns of whales, this area lends itself well to form a menagerie in which just shy of 40 unique species of whales and dolphins can be found at different times of the year. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Southern right whale. In addition, Humpback whales and Bryde’s whales are some of the more famous attractions amongst whale watchers.
Beginning in June and continuing through November, these whales, as well as others such as the killer whale, can be seen along the stretch of coastline. What has become known as the “Whale Route” spreads along the Mossel Bay coastline and runs for approximately 65 kilometres. It is in this area that most of the famous species of whales are commonly seen by whale watchers.
However, there are other places to observe the giants. In many instances it depending on what the watcher really wishes to see. Those that wish to see the Southern rights are advised to travel to Walker Bay near Cape Town, while those looking for schools of dolphins should hike along the St. Blaize trail. The best tip is to have an idea of what you want to see and where you will find it prior to setting out on the journey, but the coastline is filled with so many great sights it is hard to be disappointed no matter what you end up seeing.
Get Close – Without Getting Your Feet Wet
Many whale-watching experiences involve loading onto a small
boat and heading out to the open water with no idea what to expect.
One of the primary differences between places like that and South
Africa is the proximity of the whales to the coastline.
The Southern right whales in particular have come to South Africa
to nurse their young. As a result, they will stay in the shallow waters
to protect the infants. This affords an unbelievable opportunity to whale watchers from June to November to see the whales and their babies up close and personal. In many instances the whales will play in the water only a few meters from the shore. It is hard to find another place in which you can be so close and personal with an animal so powerful and serene.
The more typical forms of whale watching do exist as well. As mentioned above, with the oceanic crossroads and migration patterns, whales can be spotted up and down the coastline. Boat options are prevalent for those who wish for it. Otherwise, informational points are sprinkled throughout the coastline to ensure that travellers know where to stop to get the best opportunity to see some of the whales from the coast.
Whale behaviour: What to Expect
Most people will likely know the distinct sound that a whale can make underwater, perhaps as of a result of a movie such as Free Willy or Finding Nemo; however whales are very active animals. There are lots of things to watch for amongst whale activity including blowing, breaching, lob-tailing and sky hopping.
Blowing occurs when the whale shoots air from its blow hole,
causing a cloud of water vapour to shoot to the sky. This is perhaps
the most famous whale activity, although it is quite a common part
of the whale’s breathing pattern.
Breaching is performed by many ocean animals and involves the animal leaping out of the water before falling back in with a thunderous slap. It is not completely clear why the whales so this, although it is thought it may be a form of communication or exercise.
Lob-tailing is another well known activity in which the whale will slap the water with its back tail. It is also believed this is a form of communication.
Last is sky hopping, where the whale will elevate its head and body from the water, leaving its flippers and tail beneath the surface. This is done primarily to allow the whale to see where it is going.
South Africa is a country of great diversity, where there is something to be found for everyone. It is home to fantastic wildlife, including not only whales, but also large seal colonies and the great white shark. Not everyone will go just to see the whales, as additional activities include adventure activities, beaches, shopping, nightlife and so much more. Adventure tours are perhaps the most popular of these extra-curricular activities, and include action such as diving with great white sharks, zip lining, bungee jumping, and white water rafting. However, if lucky enough to be travelling there at the right season, no trip to South Africa would be complete without doing a lot of whale watching.
Guest Post by Cape Portfolios – South African Villas rentals