Whaling in South Africa
Whale swimming in Table bay
Whales have always graced the coastal waters of the Cape.
They are found in great numbers all around the coast from Saldanha
in the west to Mosselbay in the east and even further up along the coastline.
Today they are a tourist attraction and are protected
by international as well as local laws. This was not the case in times past.
With the arrival and subsequent wrecking of the ship Nieuw Haarlem back
in 1647 the presence of whales in Cape waters was noted.
With the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 whale hunting became a reality.
The first whale hunters were sent by Van Riebeeck to Saldanha Bay in
1653 to try their hands at catching a whale or two.They were not very succesful as the water in the bay was too shallow
and allowed the whale to keep its strength after being harpooned.
When this happened boats were dragged out to sea by the whales and
it became rather dangerous for the whalers.
Because of the above the Dutch gave up whaling.
In the late 1700s after the American war of Independence whaling
once again picked up in SA waters. There were more than 40
ships collecting full loads of oil off the Cape.
In the 1800s it was reported that whales were
being hunted and caught off Dassen Island.
When caught they were taken into Table Bay where they were processed.
Saldanha Bay became the first established whaling station on
the West coast of SA . It was established at Donkergat inside the Langebaan lagoon.
If you visit this area today you can still see the evidence
of the old whalers which are lying rotting in the
shallow waters next to the piers.
During the First World War whale oil was scarce and needed for
the manufacture of explosives. This had the effect of spurring on the whale hunters.
It also meant competition and other whaling factories were established on the coast of SA.
With the ending of the war and the depression of 1930 whale oil prices fell and so the factories closed down.
Unfortunately a second world war came along and the factories were re opened and continued to operate until 1967
when whaling was stopped worldwide.
Today if one visits some of the coastal towns along the West
Coast you can still see evidence of the old whaling stations.
Yzerfontein is one of them.
Most of the harbour area was used for whaling and if
you walk round to the west you can still see foundations
of some of the buildings that were there.
These days the Western Cape is once again making money out of whaling. Fortunately not from hunting them but from tourism as people from all over the world flock to
see the many whales that visit our coastline.
Hermanus the self proclaimed whale capital of the Western Cape has a whale festival in Spring each year when
the whales return to our waters. They have an official whale cryer who walks along the coastline and advises
tourists where the best viewing points are.
The False Bay coastline which includes Muizenberg, Fish Hoek and
Simonstown coastlines are very popular viewing areas in the Peninsula as the whales come in very close
and you can just about touch from the shore in certain places.
Other than the Southern Right whales that visit our coastline there are a number of other species as well.
Species such as the Bryde whales and the hump backs also visit our shores.
A few weeks ago long after the Southern rights had left I spotted a Bryde whale off Kommetjie doing its thing.
It was breaching and throwing its large body into the air seeming to be full of the joys of spring although it was already Autumn.
There is no end to the surprises one can have along our coastlines.
To see some of them you should visit us between July and November.
Email : Geoff Fairman
6 Bothma Street, Monte Vista 7460 South Africa
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Cape Town - Whaling
Page updated 18.6.2015