Whales come to
South Africa's coast to calve and to
mate, with the courtship season following
the birthing season. The �whale season� is
from June to November, although whales have
been spotted outside this period.
Southern right whales spend most of the year
in the Antarctic regions, feeding on
Humpback whales are
often seen off the coast between July and
December as they move between their
Antarctic feeding grounds and their calving and
breeding grounds off the coasts of Mozambique and
Bryde's (pronounced "broodus")
whales are found off South Africa's coasts all
year round, but slightly further offshore than
southern right and humpback whales.
Killer whales can occasionally be seen
throughout the year.
Dolphins can be seen all year round. The most
common dolphins are Heaviside's Dolphin, Common
Dolphin, Dusky Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin.
...and then there were six
In South African they sometimes talk about the "Big
6". This means that besides the Big 5 mammals of
lion, buffalo, rhino, leopard and
elephant, you can also see whales
(or even the "Big 7", which includes the great white
The Whale Route
The Whale Route stretches from 260km north of
Cape Town in Lambert's Bay, all the way round to
Durban on the east coast; a staggering 2,000km of whale watching coastline. The route
traverses several famous protected areas,
including the Cape of Good Hope and the
At least 37 species of whales and dolphins can
be found in South African waters.
However, the Whale Route is most famous for
encounters with southern right whales,
humpback whales, and several coastal dolphin
species. You can also see African penguins,
Cape fur seals, black oystercatchers and a variety of other marine life.
On the western seaboard of the Western
Cape, whales are distinctly visible if you
get high enough. Some of best places to
watch whales include Lambert's Bay, and
south down to Elandsbaai and Saldanha Bay, Yzerfontein
and Cape Town.
From Cape Town, around
the Cape Peninsula into False Bay, Heaviside's and dusky dolphins are found in
the colder waters on the western (Atlantic) side of the
Peninsula, and bottlenose, common and
humpback dolphins on the eastern (False Bay)
In False Bay the whales can be seen frolicking in the protected waters.
Bryde's whales are found further offshore all year round, and killer whales
are also occasionally seen. Almost anywhere along
the False Bay coast you can see whales, from the
road and even from the train.
Travelling east past Betty's Bay, onto Walker
Bay and the port of Hermanus. Known as the "heart of the Whale Coast", Hermanus
is arguably the best whale watching area in South
The magnificent Overberg mountains watch over
this this bustling town, where the rugged cliffs are pretty much the best place
in the world to spot these ocean giants.
The town has done much to ensure tourists
get an unforgettable view of the whales.
The famous cliff-top path,
which runs for 12km from the 'New'
Harbour all the way to the 'blue flag'
Grotto beach, provides an unobstructed view
of Walker Bay and the whales. The
precipitous cliffs on the town's seafront ensure
that just a few metres offshore the water is deep
enough for the whales to come near enough for a
Walker Bay is in the WWF's top
12 whale viewing locations in the world.
Hermanus puts on its Whale
Festival every year in late September. It's
nine days filled with music, theatre, sport
and parties, and the famous Whale Crier is around to give everyone the latest whale
Then along the coast to Gansbaai and
round to Cape Agulhas where whales come into
the protected waters.
If you prefer to be away from the
crowds, De Hoop Nature
Reserve near Witsand and the mouth of
the Breede River, offers just the
opportunity. One Cape Nature
Conservation source described De Hoop was the
best whale-watching site all along the
coast, with fifty whales being spotted in
the bay on one memorable occasion.
Along to Stilbaai, where the
southern rights enter the placid water to
bear their calves, and on to Gouritzmond, Vleesbaai,
Danabaai and then Mossel Bay.
In Mossel Bay you can experience the thrill of viewing the giants
of the deep close up, by taking a 3-hour
boat trip. Although not cheap, the chance to get within 50m of
a whale at water-level is simply
Make sure you go with
a properly licensed whale watching operator, as there are
only a few boats in the area with valid
permits to approach the whales, and there
are hefty fines for both owners and
passengers of boats breaking the law.
It is illegal to approach within 300m of
whales by boat, canoe, ski-boat, aircraft or
any other means without a permit. Less than
have been issued countrywide to ensure
regulation of the industry and minimum
intrusion on the whales who come to the
warmer waters to calve and mate.
Mossel Bay and the St Blaize hiking
trail also provides the opportunity of
seeing the spectacular site of up to 300
playing and fishing in the bay.
From Mossel Bay to Plettenberg Bay, good
whale watching spots include Hartenbos, Great Brak
River, Ballot's Bay, Heroldsbraai,
Wilderness (especially from Dolphin's Point
on Kaaiman's Pass), Sedgefield and Knysna (especially from Brenton-on-Sea and
Plettenberg Bay offers a "whale hotline" and
is where whales
often come in close, especially at Robberg
Peninsula nature reserve and Keurbooms river.
Like Hermanus, Plettenberg Bay
also lays claim to being South Africa's whale
capital - and with good reason. The
southern rights are around for the whole
season and, just when they're getting ready
to leave in early November, the humpback
whales arrive with their calves, and stay
until January. Bryde's and killer whales are
seen, and bottlenose and humpback dolphins
are here all year. A breeding colony
of Cape fur seals completes the assemblage
of marine mammals.
Between Plettenberg and
Durban there are
a number of great locations where whales can
The southern right sometimes goes as far
north as southern
KwaZulu-Natal, where the whale
season starts on July 1st and continues until
Boat-based whale-watching is gaining
momentum in KwaZulu-Natal. With a greater
variety of species being spotted off the coast,
seeing whales off the
coast of KwaZulu-Natal is virtually
guaranteed. The humpback whales are seen as
they migrate along the coast between May and
November en-route to from their Atlantic
feeding grounds to their breeding grounds
off Mozambique, and then back again.