Whale Watching Walker Bay South Africa

Humpback Whale – Rhino Africa Christopher Michael

Humpback Whales, Bryde’s Whales, and Southern Right Whales – we saw them all during a three-hour whale watching adventure yesterday! It’s early for whale season (June to December) on the Cape Whale Coast, so I was hopeful but not overly optimistic. Previously cancelled due to sea swells, The Southern Right Charters trip resulted in a surprise jackpot – multiple, breathtaking whale sightings!!

After an on-land briefing, about seventy-five passengers boarded catamaran Miroshca. We departed Hermanus New Harbor at 3 pm for a sunset tour. Miroshca had been out on Walker Bay several times that day, and returning passengers were ecstatic after seeing three whale species that frequent Walker Bay!

Fishing Boat New Harbor Hermanus

Safety and Conservation

Environmentally sensitive Southern Right Charters promotes the conservation and safety of whales and marine life. They operate under the ethos of “Observing NOT Disturbing”. Whale watching boats aren’t permitted to approach whales closer than 160 feet, but the “naturally curious creatures” often come near the boat. When they do, it’s absolute magic!

Whale Watching Boat Miroshca – Southern Right Charters

Guides, Videographer, Drone

Well-trained guides and whale specialists helped via a PA system. They spotted and identified whales and provided commentary interpreting the behavior of marine life encountered. There was considerable swell in the Bay, but nothing that Miroshca couldn’t handle – not so sure about the passengers. It’s difficult holding on, watching whales, and taking photos all at the same time.

Hermanus Whale Watching – Southern Right Charters

A videographer captured the best footage from our trip. I tried watching and taking photos from several vantage points and preferred the upper deck. My photos are disappointing, but I got a distant shot of a Southern Right breaching and one or two other photos were moderately decent.

Southern Right Whale – Ivanhoe Sea Safaris

The guides used a drone to spot nearby whales from above. Videographer footage combined with drone photos were converted to a souvenir USB. The USB also has excerpts from two documentaries – Hermanus and Surrounds and The Whale Season.

Seabirds and Seals

We saw nimble Cormorants, deep-diving Gannets, graceful, acrobatic Sooty Shearwaters, and playful Cape Fur Seals. Fur Seals are endemic to Southern Africa. Hundreds were in the colony that followed our boat. Expressive creatures, their loud racket left no doubt they were present!

Cape Gannet Courtship – Bruce Robinson

Cormorants are avid fishers. They live along the coast and spend much of their time at sea. They breed in large numbers on nearby Dyer Island. Dyer Island Conservation Trust provides “unique conservation and research programmes in the local marine ecosystem”. I hope to visit the island while in the area.

Cape Fur Seals

We approached a mass of Cormorants huddled together floating on the seawater. From a distance, they looked like a bunch of seaweed. As the boat got closer, they suddenly took off in mass flight!

Humpback, Bryde’s, Southern Right

Humpback Mother and Calf

The first whale we saw was a Humpback with her young calf – the guide estimated it at three to five days old. It was tiny and seemed to be playing with its mother. The baby flipped over and the mother breached, but I wasn’t quick enough to get photos. Our guide said it’s unusual to see a Humpback calf in Walker Bay this early in winter. The calf’s color was white – this can occur at birth but changes to black within months.

Southern Right Breach

Cape Cormorant – BirdGuides

Humpbacks pass through Walker Bay on their way north. They migrate to warmer water near the equator to mate and have their calves. Male Humpbacks are known for their “complex songs, sometimes lasting 10 to 20 minutes and repeated for hours”.

Sooty Shearwater – HBW Alive

Bryde’s Whale – hermanusonline.mobi

Bryde’s

Next, we encountered several playful Bryde’s whales – pronounced “brutus”. Intelligent creatures, they knew the boat wasn’t “of the sea” but were curious and played cat and mouse with Miroshca. They came close to the sides and front of the boat, disappeared, and returned again later. Sometimes viewing is better from the lower deck. It was hard to see them from my perch on top.

Cape Fur Seal – Indigo Scuba

Bryde’s whales live in Walker Bay year-round. They’re smaller than Humpbacks and Southern Rights and named after John Bryde, a Norwegian whaler who was consul to South Africa. During the whaling era, Byrde set up whaling ports “to capture whales and sell their baleen, oilblubber, and other parts for money”. In 1912, he financed the first scientific investigation of whales in South African waters.

Southern Rights with Calf

We encountered Southern Rights near the end of the trip. They were playing in the surf close to shore. There were several of them and a calf. One suddenly breached, and it was absolutely stunning!!!

Cape Cormorants – Dyer Island Cruises

Of all the whales, Southern Rights were the friendliest. They’re distinguished by the callosities (calluses) on their head. They came close to the boat as if they wanted to play. One rolled over on its back.

Southern Right Callosities – Southern Right Charters

One explanation for their name is “whalers identifying them as the ‘right’ whale to kill on a hunt due to their plentiful oil and baleen”. During summer, Right Whales feed offshore near Antarctica. In winter, they return to nearshore waters like Walker Bay.

Marine Safaris – WTM Africa

Beloved Southern Rights choose Walker Bay as a favorite spot for mating and calving. They don’t feed during winter. Females produce a “single offspring every three to four years”. The average gestation period from conception to birth is about twelve months. After mating, females return in a year to give birth to their calves.

Southern Right Charters – Tripadvisor

The mother nurses her baby, and is the calf’s sole source of food, training, play, and protection. When born, calves are about 16 feet long and weigh around 2000 lbs. They can grow an inch in length and 130 lbs. in weight per day – “making them double in length and increase five times in weight in a year”! Whale milk is extremely high in fat content, and calves can suckle 160 gallons of milk per day.

Southern Right Whale and Calf – newshub.co.nz

Southern Right calves need from three to six months to get strong enough for the swim back to Antarctica. They stay with their mother for about twelve months, sometimes longer. They’re considered “mature” after 10 years. The average lifespan of Southern Right whales is 100 years!

Hermanus New Harbor

Guide / Whale Specialist

Sea Swell and Seasickness

At sunset we headed back to New Harbor in a heavy swell. During the ride, about half the passengers on board got seasick. Fortunately, I didn’t. It was amazing to see the whales and other marine life so close – beautiful and hard to describe… The swell was way too heavy for kayaks, but I’m scheduled for a kayak trip next week and hoping it’s a go then! Today the wind is ferocious!

On Board Miroshca

Hermanus Western Cape South Africa

Walker Bay Whale Coast

I haven’t posted on my blog since settling earlier this month in Onrusrivier – a few minutes’ drive from better known Hermanus. Onrus is a beautiful seaside town and whale-watching destination In the Cape Overberg overlooking Walker Bay. It’s surrounded by Voëlklip Beach and Grotto Beach.

Grotto Beach

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During peak whale watching season –  August to mid-December – Southern Right Whalesbecome part of the Onrus seascape”!

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“When sitting at a restaurant about to devour a delicious meal, don’t be surprised when everyone drops their cutlery with a yelp of glee and rushes to the edge of the balcony for a closer look at the frolicking whales. They’re not to be missed!”

Right Whales breed in the sheltered bays of the Cape coast, spending up to five months a year there. “They pass time playing, courting, and nursing their calves, often metres from the shore, providing spectacular land-based viewing!”

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“Hermanus is about breathing fresh ‘champagne air’, drinking crystal clear mountain water, watching marine life from your restaurant table, visiting the richest Floral Kingdom on earth, and satisfying your palate with exquisite food.”

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Southern Right Whale Family

There are many hiking opportunities in the area, including Fernkloof and Kogelberg Nature Reserves. Both known for “minimal human interference and exceptional diversity and quality of fynbos”.

Violet Eared Waxbill – Derek Keats

Another option, the easy Hermanus Cliff Path, hugs the seafront and passes over cliff tops and beaches. During whale season, you can sit on wooden benches along the path and enjoy a birds-eye view of the exciting whales, coastal Fynbos, and over 200 species of birds.

Hermanus is an eco-destination. Kelp forests along the coast nurture abalone and crayfish. Southern right whales, humpbacks, and dolphins make seasonal visits to Walker Bay which extends from Gansbaai to Hermanus.

Guinea Fowl – Peter Chadwick African Conservation Photographer

The area is an angler’s paradise and one of the best places in the world to do land-based whale watching. Between June and December, “hundreds of Southern Right Whales congregate in the sheltered shallow waters of Walker Bay to mate and calve their young”. The Bay is a Whale Sanctuary Marine Protected Area.

Breaching Right Whale

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“With an excellent choice of outdoor activities, you can do anything from mountain climbing to deep-sea diving .”

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Fernkloof Nature Reserve

Outdoor enthusiasts stroll along coastal paths or hike for days through mountain ranges. Water babies can surf, swim, sail, dive, kayak, and watch whales from rocky outcrops or boats. Foodies can dine in style or enjoy wine estate picnics. “No matter your taste for life, Hermanus adventures await your discovery.”

Hermanus War Memorial, Commemorating Fallen Heroes of WW I and WWII

It’s wonderful here, but ironically, I’ve suffered from a flu-like allergic reaction to endemic fynbos and have struggled with congestion, inflammation, sneezing, and coughing. I will need to take antihistamines continuously but after a few weeks the symptoms are improving. Local pharmacists say that fynbos allergies even plague some locals. Many are resigned to taking antihistamines and using nasal spray year-round.

Disa Ferruginea

Kayaking with the Whales of Hermanus Bay

On Saturday a group of about 15 Connect-123 volunteers drove to Hermanus for a day of whale watching. Some of us went sea kayaking to get closer to the whales. We left Cape Town early to avoid the high wind forecast for Walker Bay. During my last trip to Hermanus (see July 24th blog) it was windy and overcast and I didn’t see any whales. This time I was hoping Walker Bay would be full of them andSpouting,  wasn’t disappointed!

The kayaks were sit-on-top, self-bailing, and easy to paddle. They certainly enabled us to get closer to the Southern Right Whales. We we were in the Bay for about two hours. Other animals that frequent the area include resident Bryde Whales, Cape Fur Seals, African Penguins, many species of sea birds, Cape Otters, and an occasional pod of Dolphins. It was a sunny day and the sea cliffs and Overberg Mountains in the background added extra beauty to the experience.

Our guides did not recommend bringing cameras on the kayaks but they took photos during the outing and made a DVD available. A weekly air survey indicated about 40 whales (including calves) in the Bay. There are very few killer whales spotted in Walker Bay so it’s a popular and safe place for the migrating Right Whales to have their babies. Some whale behavior pointed out to us included:

• Breaching – a whale leaps out of the water, sometimes twirling around (some think a breach is to remove built-up parasites as they slap against the water on the way back down – others that they are having fun)
• Lobtailing – a whale sticks its tail out of the water, swings it around, and slaps it on the water
• Spouting / Blowing – whales blow water out of two blowholes near the top of their head
• Spyhopping – a whale pokes its head out of the water to take a look around
• Sailing – whales raise their flukes (tails) vertically out of the water and use them as sails

Much to our delight we saw many breaching and lobtailing whales! When a whale breaches it builds up energy and momentum and often does it several times in a row. We were not allowed to get closer than about 800 feet but enjoyed some spectacular sightings from our kayaks! Our bums and feet were soaking wet and the Bay was choppy and cold with some large sea swells, bit it was worth it to see the whales close up. We also saw a few fur seals, penguins, cormorants, and gannets. The cormorants are amazing and dive as deep as 30 feet into the sea chasing their prey.

After kayaking we changed into dry clothes and went to nearby Bientangs Cave restaurant overlooking Walker Bay where we continued to spot whales while eating lunch. Carved into a century-old cave the restaurant extends over the rocks to the edge of the water.

We drove to Hermanus via Sir Lowry’s Pass and went home via the longer winding coastal route through Gordon’s Bay. The coast was glowing in sunshine and spectacular. A perfect ending to a satisfying day full of unique and beautiful memories!