The month of June brings out a palpable excitement amongst the Southern Right Charters crew. Every year around this time, the southern right whales that have been feasting further south in the Southern Ocean make their way north to our waters to mate and calve in the protected bays of the Southern Cape.
For many of us, the start of the whale season can produce some of our most memorable tours. The uncertainty and variability of sightings may have something to do with it. Treating each tour as an expedition in itself.
Our first whale watching tour of the season took place on the 2nd of June, and anticipation built in the days leading up to the tour. What would we see?
At 9am, Miroshca, our whale watching catamaran made her way out of the Hermanus New Harbour and into Walker Bay in search of our flippered friends. A disturbance on the water was spotted a few miles out, which was determined to be an exceptionally large pod of common dolphin, estimated to be in the range of 6000 animals. The pod headed in our direction and proceeded to encircle the boat while porpoising and playing, giving everyone an amazing experience, while feeling as if we were part of the pod.
Migratory Humpbacks, resident Brydes & the arrival of the Southern Right whales
The first half of the month offered idyllic sea conditions and a good amount of winter sun. We enjoyed sightings of passing Humpback whales that gave us an aerial show while enjoying a pit stop in our bay on their trip further north to their breeding grounds, elusive resident Bryde’s whales that left us longing for more, often only presenting a blow followed by a quick glimpse of a dorsal fin, and even a Mola mola sunfish that curiously circled our boat numerous times giving all a good view.
Our first Southern Right Whale for the 2021 Hermanus Whale season was encountered on the 13th of June 2021, with sporadic sightings of this species up until the Cape of Storms reared her head for the latter part of the month, resulting in 14 days of ‘no sea days’ and the calm waters of Walker Bay that brings the whales here to calve were not left in the calmest state. Luckily for the southern rights, they are used to much rougher conditions, spending a large portion of the year feeding in waters home to the roaring 40’s through to the screaming 60’s. The number of whales in the bay steadily increased, and many powdery blows and the odd fluke were seen from the shore during our land-based whale tours while we walked the Hermanus Cliff paths to some of our favoured lookout points.
The number of Southern Right Whales in the bay is on the rise
Once the weather gave some reprieve, we were back out on the water, the southern right whales, now here in full swing. Noteworthy for this early in the season was sighting mom and calf pairs, a highlight being a calf out in the bay trying to master the art of using its fluke. A largely cartilage filled fluke with little muscle turns into a large floppy mass, but after numerous attempts, some coordination was obtained and the calf managed what looked to be its first ever lobtail, much to the delight of its supporters on the boat.
So far, July has brought about numerous mating groups in the bay, with more and more whales arriving from their more southern latitudes. These mating groups are incredible to see, with up to seven animals in one group being the largest group to date. The mating groups consist of one female and up to six males, forming what can best be described as a pleasant form of “whale soup”, with whales rolling around each other in a beautiful mess of splashes and white water. There is no aggression shown during these moments, just large amounts of fondling as the males wait for their turn to mate with the female.
Rare encounter of Humpback dolphins
Another highlight of July was a great sighting of a small pod of Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins, right outside the harbour wall. These dolphins have a stocky build, with a distinct hump on their back underneath the dorsal fin. They are seldom seen compared to our more common species, the Bottlenose and Common Dolphins that are often encountered.
With whale numbers in the bay rapidly increasing, every tour provides us with a different and exciting experience.