Trip Status

A Whale’s gotta eat!

As rich in marine life as the waters of Walker Bay are, they unfortunately do not hold the required biomass of the southern right’s whale favourite food source to keep these gentle giants here year-round. November and the early weeks of December sees them departing our bay and heading south to their feeding grounds in the sub-Antarctic Ocean. This season, we had our last few remaining mom’s and their youngsters in our waters until the first week of December, before wishing them well until the following year when they will once again return.

At this point, our focus turns to the other amazing marine life we have in our waters; Bryde’s whales, Common and Bottlenose dolphins, Mola-mola sunfish, African penguins and Cape fur seals to name but a few. Each trip at this point is completely different, and you just never know what to expect, emphasizing the inherent unpredictability of the ocean and its wildlife.

This unpredictability, I believe, is what brings us moments, in each and every season, that are definite highlights, making us second guess what we know, and keep us going back for more. This past season was no different, being filled with such moments worthy of looking back on at this point in time:

The more the merrier

Southern right whales are polygamous, forming large mating groups during courtship. Large groups involving multiple males all vying for their chance to mate with one single female are a regular sight in Walker Bay in the height of the season; and is an absolutely amazing sight to see. There is no aggression shown by the males, and they rely solely on sperm competition to fight their fight on a microscopic level. Midway through the month of August, right at the end of an amazing sunset trip, having already seen multiple southern rights and two humpbacks, we stumbled upon one of the largest mating groups we have seen in memory. Over 11 individuals, all throwing their 14-16m long, 60 odd thousand kilogram bodies around with such control, in some sort of organised chaos, what an amazing sight! Even after heading back into the harbour, the group could be seen from the shore, carrying on until we eventually lost sight of them once the sun had set.

FIFTY SHADES vs. TUX

Every now and then, a particular whale has the ability to peak our interest, steal our hearts. Sometimes this is a result of particular character traits, sometimes through looks, sometimes just through sharing a moment, maybe the locking of eyes. This past season, a southern right I named Fifty Shades stole the hearts of many. Straight out of Natures Art Gallery, one of only 3-4% of southern rights that are born almost snow white, and darken slightly in colour with age, known as a brindle. Fifty Shades dazzled us with its colour scheme, amazing patterns, and inquisitive character, joining multiple mating groups and winning over everyone who laid eyes on him. Our skipper, had a similar interest in “Tux”, a whale with a beautiful white chin, also not at all common! The Fifty Shades vs Tux, guide vs skipper poll on social media was the only way to settle it, with the majority leaning in favour of Fifty Shades! We will be keeping our eyes peeled for both Fifty Shades and Tux in the years to come.

Hump Jumpy

Although southern rights are the focal point from June to December, Bryde’s whales are year-round residents, and humpbacks are also a relatively regular sighting, especially in June and July. This season we had a humpback interaction like no other. We spotted a lone, adolescent humpback right in the middle of the bay, and slowly made our way in its direction. This whale proceeded to do the same, heading toward us and giving us the most impressive performance! Lying on its back, using a textbook backstroke, the whale circled our catamaran, Miroshca. After numerous laps of backstroke and some pectoral flipper slapping, it started to breach, almost waiting for our reaction each time before breaching again, each one more impressive than the last. Breaching can often happen out of nowhere, and if one isn’t quick enough, they can be easily missed. One of our crew counted 52 breaches in total, enough to ensure no one could possibly miss it! Each time we tried to slowly move out of the area, it would encircle us again- a once in a lifetime experience!

Inquisitive Bryde’s

Bryde’s whales are generally thought of as being quite an elusive specie, generally not giving as spectacular a performance that southern rights are capable of. There were multiple instances this season however that a Bryde’s was not so elusive, circling our boat for what felt like forever, having a close look at each and every guest onboard, from every angle possible. These whales are so sleek and slender, and when one acts slightly out of character, the interaction can be even more special. We were also luckily enough to see these whales lunge feeding on the surface numerous times. Carden, our drone pilot and videographer managed to capture these moments from the air, allowing us the best possible view of them inhaling an entire bait ball in one mouthful, from right under the feet of the feeding terns. Quite likely some of the best footage ever captured of such a moment!

Where do the southern rights go when they leave Walker Bay?

This season for the first time in many years, four southern rights were tagged by the Marine Mammal Institute here in Hermanus. We know that these whales go south to feed before returning to our waters to mate and calf, but exactly where, for exactly how long, and exactly what routes they take, as well as the impact on reproduction and body condition this may have, was of interest. Four whales, all of which were tagged in Walker Bay, departed us and headed south to higher latitudes, but all in completely different directions. One headed west-southwest in the direction of South America, one east-southeast in the direction Australia, and two in a more or less a southwest direction but on two very different courses. We are still monitoring their progress to see exactly where they may end up, but they look to have found the food! You can track the whales here if you would like to monitor their movements: https://www.mammalresearchinstitute.science/whale-unit

All things considered, with Covid providing its fair share of challenges, we had an action-packed season, and it was great to be able to share our waters and its marine life with so many keen guests. From the young budding marine biologist to the absolute whale lover, to the “bucket-lister”, we thank you all for your support, and we hope to see you again in the not too distant future. In just a few months, the gentle giants will be back in our waters, and we can’t wait!

¬Brandon Payne, Whale Specialist & EXPEDITION GUIDE

Say Hello to MIRA – the southern right whale

‘MIRA’ is a 16 year old female southern right whale with a large distinctive white marking on her dorsal.

In addition to keeping sighting logs of each whale & dolphin sighting during our boat tours, Southern Right Charters photographs, record and catalogues any whales seen with distinctive markings, as part of our Whale Sighting Programme in the hopes that we can determine re-sightings of specific whales in the future which could offer immediate knowledge on the whales age, movements and birthing cycle.

On the 31st July 2020, our crew spotted MIRA in Walker Bay, Hermanus. This is our first successful and official re-sighting as she was last spotted from our boat in September 2017. What is amazing is that in 2017 and now in 2020, both encounters have seen MIRA with a new calf. This indicates a healthy birthing/calving period of three years, with MIRA, doing great, having calved in both 2017 & 2020.

On further investigation by the Mammal Research Institute Whale Unit, they confirmed that MIRA is in their database, but not as an adult but as a calf!

MIRA was born in 2004 to female R98/113A, showing that she is turning 16 years old this year. In a social media post on the 4th August 2020, the Whale Unit mentioned that “Considering the average age of first calving is about 8 years old, Southern Right Charters likely captured her 2nd (2017) and 3rd (2020) calf.”

This good news story rippled across the local news in Hermanus, with many locals posting sightings of MIRA and her calf during the 2020 whale season, over a +/- 3 month period ranging from end July well into October MIRA and her calf ‘set up camp’ in Hermanus and was often seen from shore and boat.

 

 

Hello Humpback Whales!

Winter in the Cape is synonymous with hot chocolate at a roaring fire but in fact it is time to don a warm jacket and head out onto the blue yonder as it just also happens to be the time of the year when Humpback whales are migrating past the Hermanus coastline on their way to warmer waters.

These mammoth mammals are known as the acrobats of the ocean, you will fully understand why, when you witness this enormous animal breach (jump) out of the water with agility and true acrobatic form.

Humpback whales breach

HUMPBACK WHALE – Megaptera novaeangliae

 

Between June and August sightings of the Humpback whales in Hermanus are common as they follow their migratory path towards their breeding grounds in the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean.

The Humpback whale is a Baleen whale, and is further classified as part of the Rorqual family which includes whales such as the Bryde’s whale, Blue whale & Fin whale, the rorqual whales are also gulper feeders as opposed to only skimmer feeders such as the Southern Right Whale.

Humpback whales

QUICK FACTS

  • The humpback displays over 300 baleen plates on either side of its mouth.
  • Like the Southern Right, this whale feeds on krill, copepods & also feeds on small pelagic fish
  • Humpback Whales are easily recognizable by their long flippers, humped back with a dorsal fin, and the distinctive white markings on the underside of their flukes (tails)
  • Of all the whale species the Humpback has the longest flippers, with the length of one third of their total body length.
  • The white markings on the underside of a Humpback whales fluke (tail) are unique to each whale, much like the callosities, and a human’s fingerprint.
  • The Humpback whale displays a very impressive ‘breach’
  • Humpback whales can grow up to 16metres (52ft) with weights that exceed 40 tons.

 

 

Summer Whale Watching

If you google Hermanus what is sure to be top ranking is whales! The town is synonymous with whales & whale watching, be it from land or boat.

The town prides itself as a whale hotspot and every local knows the Southern Right Whale & will have a story to tell of the day they drove to work and whales were Breaching, or they sat at one of the many seafront restaurants and watched whales frolicking in the bay for hours, or even some more perhaps exaggerated stories.

A slightly misleading perception is that whales are only in our waters from June – December, everyone overlooks the huge and varied spectrum of marine life that is showcased year-round in this beautiful town.

As a general rule, early December sees the last few Southern Right Whales leave our shores for their annual migration South, heading to their feeding grounds in Sub Antarctic waters, but as our attention deviates from looking for the big tails, at times up to 6m wide, the ‘V shaped blows’ or large mating groups of Southern Right Whales, we start looking for the lesser known, slightly more elusive Brydes whales.

Summer Whale Watching

 

Although much more slender and lean than the right whales, and thus more in a light weight category of its larger cousins, Brydes whales still make for exhilarating viewing. These guys are found in coastal waters year-round, following shoaling fish up and down the coast. During the world-famous Sardine Run, these guys are having a feast! They are the largest predator of the Sardine run, wiping out entire shoals of fish in one go, and here’s the best bit…..They do exactly the same down here, in Hermanus too!

Regularly we are able to witness them breaking the surface, mouths wide open as they take their catch, or swimming around shoals of fish before lining up for an underwater attack. Each has their own personality, and although a little shy, curiosity will get the better of them in most instances as they come to watch us, as we watch them!

 

While out on the water in Walker Bay, there is a huge variety of marine life to be seen, from huge pods of dolphins, to lesser known dolphin species that are becoming a more frequent sight, sunfish, bird life, seals, penguins and even some sharks if we are lucky!

Our summer cruises have so far had 100% sightings success of whales, and one thing is for sure, the big blue Atlantic Ocean is full of life, offering some surprises in the Cape area in the past couple of weeks, we have come across mass pods of Humpback whales, Southern Right Whales spotted in February & False Killer whales, to name a few.

Its summer time, the cool ocean breeze awaits, so get the sunscreen bring the family and let’s go see what’s out in the bay today!

 

Brydes Whale Feeding

 

Summer Whale Watching Brydes Whale

Winter Whale Watching | July Sightings 2016

So early into the month and already so much activity, winter whale watching in Hermanus is getting the thumbs up!

With the number of southern right whales on the rise, more than 20 whales were encountered during one trip earlier this week. Wonderful bucket list moments and varied marine life sightings of Southern right & Humpback whales, Cape fur seals and African penguins. Typical to South Africa’s winter, recent sightings of the Sub Antarctic Skua and Shy Albatross is a highlight for any bird-watcher.

Thanks Dave De Beer for capturing the moments.

COMMON WHALE WATCHING FAQ

MashUp Whales

1. What other sorts of whales may you encounter on a typical trip, or can we only see the Southern Right whale?

We mostly encounter southern right whales. But your whale watching trip can often extend into a marine safari. We can often encounter the humpback & Bryde’s whales, seals, dolphins and a variety of marine birds including the African penguin.

2. Is it easy (for you) to distinguish between the different types of whales?

Yes, and by the end of the trip it should be easy for you too, as each of the whales we have the possibility of spotting has their own clear characteristics, our whale specialist guide has been watching whales for more than a decade and is only too eager to impart his knowledge onto you. The tour starts with an on-land briefing about the whales and during the trip, the guide will keep you informed via our PA system of all sightings and behaviour ensuring your experience is informative and educational.

3. How far is Hermanus from Cape Town? Is there public transport?

Hermanus is roughly 1h30 drive from Cape Town, making it perfectly located for a whale watching day trip or better yet, as there is lots to do, a 2 night stay. There are two routes, the highway with mountain passes, vineyards and forests or the R44 Coastal route which has been praised as one of the best scenic drives in South Africa.

Unfortunately, there are no scheduled public buses or trains to Hermanus. If you are not self-driving and require transport please do contact us and we can book this for you, see our Cape Town Shuttle & Private Transfer prices for 2015.

4. Will we see sharks?

This would be a rare sighting, the great white shark hub is in Kleinbaai, and this is where the world famous Shark Alley is located. There are a number of operators that are licensed Shark Diving & Viewing companies. All of these companies offer Shark cage diving as well as surface viewing.

Both the Shark cage diving and whale watching operations are highly regulated by local authorities and operate on separate permits, each animal needs a separate viewing permit, respectively.

5. What can we do in the area if the boat based whale trip is cancelled?

Hermanus is the ‘playground’ of the Western Cape. Escape to Nature! This once small coastal fishing village has advanced as the Eco-tourism hot spot in South Africa.

If your whale watching trip is cancelled due to the sea conditions, Never Fear! There is more than enough to keep you entertained:

Visit our acclaimed  R320 Wine Route, enjoy sipping on the finest Pinot Noir and experience the finest wine and food pairing at many of these award winning wineries.

Still looking for your whale fix! Book a Whale Walking tour that includes a visit to the small but informative, modern Whale Museum.  If you looking for a more relaxed version of Whale watching many restaurants have a warm fireplace and pristine views over the bay- Just take your Binoculars!

Book a guided tour or self drive the scenic routes of the Cape Whale Coast and visit the African Penguin Colony or head to the Big cat sanctuary just outside Standford .

Feeling active? Escape to the forest for Zip-lining & Quad Biking or hike the circular path at Fernkloof nature reserve, not only will the views impress you but Fynbos will surround you.

With world renowned golf courses and more than 100 adventure activities, we would recommend for you to extend your day tour to a 2 night stay! This will also come in handy if your whale watching trip is cancelled due to weather then you have the following day as an option to re-book, see:  Frequently Asked Questions for more whale watching booking information.

 

HERMANUS CAPE WHALE COAST

The 5 best whale watching points on the Cape Whale Coast

Whether you’ve already arrived or still on your way to Hermanus, the Cape Whale Coast one of the country’s best places to participate in on-land whale watching. Here are our top-five must-stop spots.

 1. Clarens Drive (R44)

Self-drivers should seriously consider taking the scenic coastal route from Cape Town to Hermanus, or vice versa. This scenic route offers spectacular views across the bay and can easily be compared to the famous Chapman’s Peak route for its beauty. Leave Cape Town on the N2 then turn right towards Strand on the R44, which you’ll follow all the way. After Gordon’s Bay is Stony Point Penguin Colony – don’t miss this African penguin breeding spot. Then enjoy lunch and a walk through the cultivated fynbos gardens of the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens. After Kleinmond, the R44 will merge with the R43 – turn right towards Hermanus.

Hermanus Old Harbour

2. Rotary Way

Take the mostly-tarred road less travelled to the summit of the mountain range that welcomes you to Hermanus. From Cape Town, approximately 2km before Hermanus town centre turn left into Malva Road before the Gateway Shopping Centre, and follow the Rotary Way signs. You’ll want to stop at various points along Rotary Way for views of Vermont, the Hemel and Aarde Valley, Hermanus’ harbours and, of course, the whales. Rotary Way ends at a parking lot that overlooks the spectacular scene of Hermanus and its southern right whales in Walker Bay. Bring refreshments and prepare to spend a long time taking in the unbeatable sights.

 

3. Gearing’s Point

It’s from Gearing’s Point at Hermanus’ Old Harbour where people looked out for the fishermen who came in with their catch of the day. Its orientation offered a great view of incoming boats, and today it is one of the ideal spots from where to eye the southern right whales. Should the point get crowded, walk along the paths or relax with a picnic basket on benches and patches of grass. When gazing out at the bay, to the left you will see the New Harbour in the distance, here you can join one of our boat based whale watching trips to get a closer look at these gigantic mammals.Hermanus

4. Sievers Punt

Sievers Punt is in Hermanus at 306 Main Road and right next door to the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. Ask locals how to get there, and you won’t be sorry. This is one of the most fruitful whale-watching spots. Sievers Punt is right next to popular fishing spot Kraal Rock and other whale hotspot Die Gang. It’s an easy amble from Hermanus’ town square, but if you’re pressed for time you can quickly drive there, too.

 

5. De Kelders

De Kelders is about 40km east of Hermanus, past Stanford. The seaside village is named after the numerous caves that have been carved into the high sandstone cliffs.  During season, southern right whales swim just metres from the rocky shore, and your vantage point is world-class. While here you should visit the Walker Bay Nature Reserve with its +20km trail along the coast. You could be lucky enough to spot the Cape clawless otter, bushbuck, duiker, and steenbok.

 

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TODAY

Tuesday
23 Jul 2024

09h00 and 12h00 – Good to Go

15h00 – to be confirmed on updated forecast

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* Trip status is updated daily around 16h00 SAST.

* Subject to unforseen circumstances.