Cape Town  -  Kalk Bay

Southern Right Whales
in Cape Town Waters


Southern Right whale in False Bay

It's that time of the year again. The whales have returned to our coastline and no matter where you go you are likely to see a couple of them cavorting in the ocean close to the shore. Southern Right whales got their name because of where it came from (South) and because it was the right whale to hunt. When it was harpooned and killed it floated which made it easy for whalers to find it in the ocean.

The female whales are about 13.9 metres long and have no dorsal fin. The males are slightly smaller. The females weigh about 40 tonnes and were hunted for their blubber and baline in the past.

After the Bible story of Jonah and the whale it is believed that whales can swallow a man. Maybe the killer whale can but not the Southern Right. Its throat is so small that it is unable to swallow an orange. Hard to believe for an animal so large.

These whales arrive along our coastline in June and stay till the end of November, early December. While they are here they take shelter in our shallow sandy bays and give birth to their young, most of which are born in August. The babies are then suckled by their mothers and drink about 600 kg of milk every day. While on our coastline the mothers do not feed but utilise body fat to suckle the young.

The mating can also be quite fun for the whales that is. A female may have about eight males to mate with her and the one with the most sperm is likely to be the father of her baby. Whales have one baby every three years.

A gestation period of 13 months and 4 to 8 months to suckle and wean the baby. Every year about 1500 whales visit our coastline and certain areas have become very popular for whale watching.

Although it is not necessary to go to Hermanus to see whales as they are all along our coastline, the town has become the whale watching capital of SA. Each year during the September school holidays the town has a whale festival. Visitors flock to the town to see the whales and have a weekend away from home.

Walker Bay Hermanus is where most of the whales congregate and as the coastline there is quite sheer the whales can come very close in to shore and people can look down on them from the cliff faces. For those with a bit of money to spend, boat trips to see the whales at sea can be arranged. There are however restrictions as to how close boats can venture to the whales.

The whales are very placid but as they are big and could become very dangerous were they to hit you with their tail fin restrictions are strictly enforced.

In Hermanus they have an official whale crier. It his job to walk along the coastline and find the whales. When he has found them he blows his horn which is made of dried seaweed and calls the tourists to where the whales are. Over the years he has become well known to the people of Hermanus and to visitors. He also phones the local radio stations and advises them where the whales in Hermanus can be seen. The whales normally return to the same area each year to give birth and mate.

Over the years individual whales have been identified by the white callosite markings on their heads and watchers can go back each year and identify the various whales that return. The whales along the Southern coastline are a great attraction and is very good for tourism in the area.

At present it takes about 10 years for the whale population to double itself. It is estimated that if the trend continues in 2040 the whale population will be back to what it was before it was decimated by hunting.

Lets keep it that way by everybody joining in and keeping the whale hunting moratoriums in place.

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Southern right whales