Whale Watching - All you need to know

Your Guide to Whale Watching and Whale Watching in Hermanus, South Africa. What you need to know!

Whale watching is the practice of observing Dolphins and Whales in their natural environment in a responsible manner.
This is mostly a recreational activity but is used for research and educational purposes. A study was done by International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2009 and the study showed that an estimated 13 million people went Whale Watching in 2008. The Whale Watching Industry generates indirect revenue of $2.1 Billion Dollars per annum
and $872.7 million in direct revenue in the Tourism Industry worldwide and employs about 13000 workers. Whale Watching can be found in 119 countries as per the above study. Organised Whale Watching started in the United States. In 1950 when the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego became a public area for observing Gray Whales when they are migrating and an estimated 10,000 people went Whale Watching in its first year of operating. Whale Watching is very
important in Developing Countries, like South Africa. The South African Coastal Communities like Hermanus have profited greatly from the Whales' presence which has also added popular support in the protection of these amazing creatures from the Whaling Industry, Ship Strikes and bycatch by adding Marine protected areas and sanctuaries in the various coastal towns like Hermanus, Gansbaai, Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth to name a few. The Rapid Growth of Whale Watching Trips and Operators and the size of the Boats used to do Whale Watching may affect the Whales Migratory patterns, Whale Behavior and Breeding cycle. But there is no clear evidence that Whale Watching can affect the ecology or biology of the Whales or Dolphins. Environment conservationists that are concerned about the "Quick Buck" mentality in the Whale Watching industry and Boat Owners are encouraging all Operators to contribute to local Government regulations for Whale Watching and have come up with some common rules. ( But there is no international standard set of rules exist due to the huge variety of population and species of Whales and Dolphins)

These common rules are as follows -

1. Avoid sudden turns.
2. Minimize speed so no wake is produced.
3. Minimize noise.
4. Approach marine life from angles where you don't surprise them.
5. Do not encircle, pursue or come between Whales.
6. Do not entice Dolphins in bow-riding.
7. Consider cumulative impact by minimizing the number of boats per trip per day.
8. Do not allow swimming with Dolphins (this rule is not adhered to by some countries).

Did you know that Whale Watching in Hermanus, South Africa is very well known for its Marine Life and Whale Watching?
Did you know that we also have the Ocean Big 5 and it is just as incredible as the Big 5 Safari's you will find up North!

What can you expect when going Whale Watching in Hermanus, South Africa?

Every year between June and Mid December, Southern Right Whales visit the shores of Hermanus, South African to find a mate or to give birth after a 12 monthgestation period. When going on a Boat Based Whale Watching trip in Hermanus, you can see mating groups, individual Males, Nursing Groups or Mating Groups. You can also possibly see Bryde's Whales, Hump Back Whales, Dolphins, Marine Bird Life, Penguins and Cape Fur Seals on your Whale Watching trip in Hermanus,not to mention the beautiful surroundings of Walker Bay with its majestic mountains and long beaches and cliffs along the rugged coastline of Hermanus.

Some interesting facts of the Ocean's Big 5 in South Africa.

Southern Right Whales

Before Southern Right Whales became a protected species in 1935, Southern Right Whales got its name from the fact that they were easy to hunt as they are very curious
creatures, swim at very slow speeds and their carcasses float, hence they became known as the "RIGHT WHALE" to hunt. But this very fact, also makes it great to go Whale Watching in Hermanus to see these Gentle Giants of the Ocean. The average size of an Adult Southern Right Whale is the equivalent size of 10 African Elephants
(average length of 13.9m long) and a Calf is the average size of 5 African Elephants (average length of 6.1m). When the calves are born they grow by 3cm per day and suck 600 liters of milk every day from its Mother. Their lifespan is not known but the experts reckon they live to more than 50 years of age. They are also very easy
to spot as they are generally found on the surface and you will notice large Callosities and Barnacles that are found on their bodies. They also have Whale Lice that spend their whole lives on the whale and feed on the dead outer layers of the skin. The Southern Right Whale can also be distinguished from other Whale by the V-Shaped
"blow" that rises up to 3 meters high.

Brydes Whales

Bryde's Whales are found in the Hermanus Shores right through the year but are very evasive and difficult to spot as they change direction very quickly and when they surface, only a small part of their body appears above the surface before they disappear again and may not be seen again. They dive regularly for 5 - 15 minutes and
can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes. Bryde's hunt fish here in the Bay. An adult Brydes Whale can reach an average of 14 meters in length. They have a dorsal fin that is found two thirds along its back and this is what you will briefly see when they surface. Their 'blow' is columnar like and reaches about 3 - 4 meters high and
they sometimes blow while they are underwater. Brydes Whales breed every alternate year in any season. Their Gestation period is believed to be around 12 months. Brydes Whales become sexually mature at 8 - 12 years of old. They nurture their young for 6 - 12 months.

Humpback Whales

Humpback Whales frequent our Shores here in Hermanus between May and November every year while they migrate from Antarctica all the way to Tropical Waters of Mozambique where they will find a mate or give birth to their calf. They won't feed during this migration. They will live on their fat reserves. They only feed in the polar regions and they eat mainly krill and small fish. They love to be on the surface of the ocean and also love to breach which makes it great to interact with Humpback Whales as they are also very inquisitive creatures. Humpback Whales also go into song for 15 - 20 minutes. No one knows why they do this but it may be mating related. Humpback Whales fell by 90% in their population due to the Whaling Industry before 1966, when a moratorium was established and they became a protected species. They have a population of about 80 000 now. The Humpback Whales have very distinctive body shapes as they have a very nobly head, long pectoral fins, Black Dorsal Fin. They also have a fluked tail with wavey trailing edges which rises above the water before they going to Breach. Humpback Wales have 270 - 400 Baleen Plates on either
side of their mouth and they are 46cm in front and 3 feet in the back of their mouth behind the hinge. Adult Humpback Males can reach up to 12 - 14 meters in length and can weight about 36 tones but the females are generally larger in size at 14 - 16 meters in length. Calves are about 6 meters in length when born and weigh about 1.8
tonnes. They will be nursed for about 6 months and then they will have a mix of independent feeding and nursing for another 6 months. The mother's milk is 50% fat and the color of the milk is pink. Their long white Tail fins can be a 3rd of a length of their body.

Common Dolphin

There are three types of dolphins in South Africa.
1. Bottlenose dolphin
2. Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin
3. long-beaked common dolphin.

They all belong to the family known as Delphinidae, the types of dolphins in South Africa are actually toothed whales.

African Penguin

The African Penguin is sometimes referred to as the Jackass Penguin because of the sound it makes when it communicates, it does sound similar to that of
a donkey braying. This Penguin grows to be about 26.5 to 27.5 inches tall and weighs between 4 and 11 pounds. It has a black stripe and a pattern of unique black spots on its chest. This is very practical camouflage for them when they are in water. Their back black coat hides them from predators up above and their white belly hides them from predators below. They have pink sweat glands above its eyes that become pinker or darker as the penguin gets hotter. They also have salt-water glands in their heads that purify the sea water they drink and they sneeze out the salt crystals

Males are larger than females and have larger beaks. Penguins have very sharp beaks, so do not even try to handle them. Though, male and female penguins look almost identical, it is very difficult to tell the gender of a penguin without doing a genetic test. 80% of their diet is fish particularly sardines and anchovies.

African Penguins like other Penguins mate for life. They begin breeding between the ages of two and six but usually at around four years of age. They lay around 2 eggs, incubated by both parents, which hatch between 38 and 42 days.

Newly-hatched chicks are blind and completely helpless. During the first 30 days of the chicks’ lives, the penguin parents protect and feed them around the clock. The parents regurgitate fat and nutrient rich food for their chicks. This helps the chicks to grow very quicky, they even double their weight within a week.

They swim at an average 7km to 24km an hour and can remain underwater for two and a half minutes and a recent study has revealed that a young African penguin can clock up an average of 45km a day

There are only 2 mainland Penguin colonies in South Africa;

1.Boulders Beach near Simonstown. There are currently an estimated 3,000 Penguins

2.Stony Point near Betty's Bay.

St Croix Island Marine Reserve in Algoa Bay has the largest African penguin colony.

The wild African Penguin was placed on the Endangered list in 2010 and is currently still very much on the list. This is partly because of the industrial fishing that was introduced around the Cape, pollution and oil spills. In the past 30 years the African Penguin population has decreased by 50%, on average this is equivalent to around 90 birds a week.

Great White Shark

The Great White Shark (Carcharodon Carcharias) is known for its sheer size. Males measure 3.4 to 4 m (11 to 13 ft) in lenth and 1,905 (4,200lb) in weight at full maturity. Females measure 4.6 to 4.9m (15 to 16 ft) on average, at maturity a female can grow to 6.1m (20ft) in length and 1,905kg (4,200lb).

Great Whites do not have that cold, staring fish-like onyx black buttons for eyes that most people think. Contrary to popular belief, their eyes rotate in their sockets and they are actually a stunning midnight blue! In good light one can clearly distinguish the circular pupil and dark iris ringed with a spectral hint of bright blue. Great Whites have up to 300 serrated, triangular teeth arranged in several rows. When they lose or damage a tooth, it is replaced by a new one throughout their life. It is believed that a Great White may use and lose up to 30 000 teeth in its lifetime.

Great Whites are selective carnivorous surface feeders. They hunt and feed on a wide variety of fish, seals, sea lions and even dolphins. In Gansbaai their main food source is the Cape Fur Seal.

There is little known facts about Great White Shark mating. What is known that a the Shark needs to be at least four to five metres in length. They are ovoviviparous, meaning they incubate and hatch their eggs in the womb. They will only give birth when the young has developed enough to survive on their own. When they are born they
they are around one metre long and are self sufficient. There is a lot of debate in this area because there is little known actual facts, all facts are based on estimations or speculations.A true fact is that nobody has ever witnessed a Great White mating or giving birth in the wild. Along with their mating, there is little known fact about their maturity, gestation or how they have the ability to remain so elusive and unpredictable.

Dyer Island, situated just off Gansbaai (15 minute boat ride) is home to the biggest population of Great White Sharks in South Africa, some argue even in the world. Running between Dyer Island and neighbouring Geyser Rock there is a channel of sea that has been appropriately named 'Shark Alley'. This is down to the amount of Great White Sharks in one concentrated area. This is an area where a lot of research has been done on these animals, it is vastly considered as one of the best places in the world to study Great White Shark behaviour. It is believed that there are less than 5000 Great White Sharks left on the planet, and in recent estimates they suggest that 2000 of these are to be found in
South African waters.

Great White Sharks will literally refuse to live in captivity. They find the confinement of a tank (even a very rare one) just too stressful. They will either die from injuring themselves i.e by swimming into the glass or they will die through stress. There is nowhere in the world where there is a a Great White Shark in captivity.

Cage diving is most common at sites where a large population of great whites sharks populate including the coast of South Africa, the Neptune Islands in South Australia and Guadalupe Island in Baja California. The popularity of cage diving and swimming with sharks is at the focus of a booming tourist industry. A common practice is to chum the water with pieces of fish to attract the sharks. These practices may make sharks more accustomed to people in their environment and to associate human activity with food; a potentially dangerous situation. By drawing bait on a wire towards the cage, tour operators lure the shark to the cage. Other operators draw the bait away from the cage, causing the shark to swim past the divers

The shark tourist industry has some financial leverage in conserving this animal. A single set of great white jaws can fetch up to £20,000. That is a fraction of the tourism value of a live shark; tourism is a more sustainable economic activity than shark fishing. For example, the dive industry in Gansbaai, South Africa consists of six boat operators with each boat guiding 30 people each day. With fees between £50 and £150 per person, a single live shark that visits each boat can create anywhere between £9,000 and £27,000 of revenue daily.

Locations where you can go Whale Watching around the World.

South Africa - Cape Town, Hermanus, Gansbaai, Plettenberg Bay, Port Elizabeth
Southwest Atlantic - Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay
West Pacific - Western Australia
East Pacific - Columbia, Panama and Ecuador
Northeast Atlantic - Great Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Scandinavia, Portugal, Spain, Norway and France.
Northwest Atlantic - United States, Canada
Northern Indian Ocean - Sri Lanka and Maldives
Northeast Pacific - United States
Central Pacific - Hawaii and Alaska
Asia - Philippines
Southwest Pacific - Australia and New Zealand
Northern Mediterranean Sea - Italy, France and Monaco

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