Your South Africa whale-watching guide 2018

discoverafrica 11 July 2018
Part of the South Africa Safari Collection
Back to the Our Blog

June to October may be the low season in Cape Town, but there’s never any want for things to do. One of the most exciting and celebratory events is the annual passing of whales along the coastline of South Africa. There is something so magical about seeing these enormous creatures breaching, tail-slapping and blowing as they make their journey through the wonderous ocean.

Cape Town and its surrounds happen to be one of the best places to whale-watch, with thousands of visitors both locally and abroad joining in on the action each year. There is even a festival to honour the experience.

This brief guide will let you in on some of the important things to know about seeing our treasured cetaceans:

What will I see during whale-watching season?

Cape Fur seals enjoying the pale winter sun

 

The most sighted whale is the Southern right, known for its elongated mouth. In addition to these, you may see:

  • Humpback whales
  • Bryde’s whales (rare)
  • Minke whales (rare)
  • False killer whales (rare)
  • Orca
  • Common and Bottlenose dolphins
  • Humpback dolphins (rare and endangered)
  • Great white sharks
  • Cape fur seals
  • Coastal birds, including penguins

When can I see the whales?

The general period runs from June to October or early November. The Southern right whale will stick around during this period to calve. The Humpbacks arrive a bit earlier (around May) on their way to breeding grounds in Mozambique and Madagascar. Other whales will calve heavily during July and August. Despite the fact that Bryde’s whales can be found in our waters year-round, they are difficult to spot.

 

What is the best way to see whales in South Africa?

 

There are three ways to observe these gentle giants; on land, from the air and by boat. While land-based is the more affordable option, boating excursions are conducted by various tour operators along the coast. Day trips on the water are a lot of fun and there is nothing quite like seeing a whale (relatively close up). They allow for greater photographic opportunities and offer insight into a whale's’ intriguing behaviour that can be both awe-inspiring and amusing.

 

Aerial flights can be costly and there is nothing like observing whales with the sea breeze on your face, it’s just a more pleasurable experience.

 

Which tour operators should I use for whale-watching by boat?

Dyer Island Cruises is a certified member of Fair Trade Tourism

 

Cape Town and surrounds were once grounds for whaling, which significantly reduced whale populations. Whaling in South Africa was banned in 1979 and the emphasis now is on the conservation and protection of our precious marine life. Unfortunately, not everyone plays by the rules.

Some boating operators do not respect the ocean, nor the delicate ecosystem that supports our marine life. Harassing, crowding and getting too close to these animals scares them away and can be potentially fatal to the whale. These operators often do not have whale-watching permits, or any passenger safety requirements in place, making a trip with them extremely dangerous.

Good tour operators often work closely with local conservation bodies and some even lead non-profit initiatives to educate children about the value of marine life. Look out for a tour operator that is a member of the Blue Flag eco-label and Fair Trade Tourism.

There are strict laws governing the whale-watching industry so please do report any suspicions you may have about a tour operator or anyone who says you can feed, touch or swim with whales in South Africa.

 

 

Hermanus Whale Festival

This annual festival is great for a weekend getaway with the family. It’s not just about whales though. There are stalls selling homemade wares and crafts, educational activities for the kids, music, street parades and car shows. Enjoy some fresh seafood at any one of the great restaurants littered through the town.

If you’d like to go whale-watching on the beautiful South African coast, let us advise you on where to stay and how to include this experience in your South Africa safari.

 

Travel tips:

Look out for the resident whale crier, who alerts the public to whale sightings around Hermanus

 

  • It is worth phoning a whale-watching tour operator before your trip to check on the latest sightings.
  • Be aware that Great white sharks will avoid areas where there are orcas
  • Children under the age of five usually board a boating excursion for free
  • Pack a pair of binoculars, sunscreen and a sun hat. You will still get sunburn even if it’s winter and there is cloud cover.
  • Look out for a designated “whale crier” if you’re whale-watching from land. They are tasked with signalling where a whale has been spotted. They use a piece of dried out kelp to create audible codes that can be deciphered on the board around their necks.

Feature image credit: Mike Lloyd 


Some related info

Great places to go on a hot air balloon ride in Africa

That ever present bucket list creeps up on us the older we get and this list seems to be growing every year. It’s almost a dead giveaway that many people out there would count going on a ride in a hot air balloon as a definite item on this formidable list. You’ve travelled all the way to Africa, to see the amazing nature and abundance of wildlife so why not make it that much more special…

15 reasons why you should explore Mountain Zebra National Park

The Mountain Zebra National Park is situated in the Eastern Cape and it was first proclaimed in 1937. Mountain Zebra National Park is home to herds of zebras, Black rhinos, buffalos, springbok, blesbok, Black wildebeest, eland, Red hartebeest and gemsbok. Predators in the park includes hyena, caracal and cheetah. The park is also a habitat for approximately 216 birds. If you’re planning…

Discover the South African village that inspired The Hobbit

“As their eyes became used to the dimness they could see a little way to either side in a sort of darkened green glimmer. Occasionally a slender beam of sun that had the luck to slip in through some opening in the leaves far above, and still more luck in not being caught in the tangled boughs and matted twigs beneath, stabbed down thin and bright before them. But this was seldom, and it…

Expert Q&A: Africa’s best Big Five safari destinations

One of the main reasons why people travel to Africa is to see the Big Five - the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and the White/Black rhinoceros. However, one of the most frequently asked questions we get is which destination offers the best chance to see all five species?   To answer this question, we've asked eight travel experts to share their favourite…

5 Best spots for South Africa bird watching

Said to be one of the best countries for bird watching in the world, South Africa is home to a flock of great birding spots where about 900 species of birds are waiting for your binoculars to rest on their breast. #1 Cape Town Above: African Penguins by Nicolas Raymond Among all the historic landmarks and cultural buzz flit a variety of native bird species which include the Cape…

What Does it Cost to Visit one of the World’s most prestigious Heritage Sites?

Imagine for a moment having a sumptuous breakfast in the midst of a pride of African lions or a herd of gigantic rhinos with the glowing, rising tropical sun in the backdrop. How about swimming with the dolphins just after a heavy lunch before catching a rare marlin before settling for dinner? This is the picturesque out-of-this-world experience that defines the Phinda Private Game…

You Might Also Like

 | Kruger to the Mozambican coast

Kruger to the Mozambican coast

Combining the bush and the wildlife found in the famous Sabi Sand in the Kruger National Park with a tropical stay in one of the sublime lodges of Mozambique's Ponta Mamoli...

 | Luxury South Africa to Zimbabwe safari

Luxury South Africa to Zimbabwe safari

Spot the Big Five in Thornybush Private Game Reserve and enjoy the majesty of Zimbabwe's roaring Victoria Falls ...

 | Blissful 4-day Kruger Safari

Blissful 4-day Kruger Safari

Experience luxury in the Kruger Park ...

 | Luxury Cape Town and Kruger Safari

Luxury Cape Town and Kruger Safari

Explore two of South Africa's most desirable locations in this whirlwind safari tour...