Whale for Breakfast
Viewing wildlife is often a fickle pastime and marine creatures are even harder to spot. But come winter and spring the coastline of South Africa is littered with hundreds of the world’s most impressive creatures showing off their size and strength. Every year from June to November southern right whales migrate from their Antarctic feeding grounds to breed in the warmer waters. The Western Cape is particularly good for watching the gentle giants. In fact the whale watching is so good that in some guest houses you can spot the whales breaching from your bed or the breakfast table.
Southern right whales are among the world’s largest creatures. Females can reach lengths of up to 14 metres and a weight of nearly 40 tonnes. The largest terrestrial animal – the African elephant – weighs only 7 tonnes. Despite their size and incredible strength right whales are graceful and gentle creatures. Few people can help stopping their cars on coastal roads to marvel at the whales’ playful behaviour. But what exactly is it that the whales do when they surface?
- Breaching: Whales often launch more than 90% of their body out of the water. This breaching action could be used to communicate or to cleanse the skin. Whales usually breach more than once, so if you if you caught a glimpse of a breach, keep your eyes fixed on that area and you are likely to see more action.
- Sailing: The whale floats playfully on his back with the flukes held above the surface.
- Spyhopping: With the head lifted out of the water the whale uses his good eyesight to inspect his surroundings.
- Lobtailing: The whale’s tail is lifted out of the water and waves around or is smacked onto the water with a loud sound, which could be used to communicate.
The southern right whale was once heavily endangered by whaling. In fact the animal got its name because it was considered the right whale to hunt. A slow swimmer that stayed afloat after its death, the southern right was an easy target and rich in oil and baleen. The southern right whale and his two northern cousins, the North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales, were hunted in excess. In 1937 right whales were protected but it took until the 1960s for illegal whaling to cease. Since then the species have recovered steadily and today hundreds of right whales can be seen along the South African coast.
Southern right whales are most easily spotted when they are breaching, but even when these giants are relaxed the white callosities on their head are a tell-tale sign. Southern rights can be distinguished from other species by their lack of a dorsal fin and their V-shaped blow.
Whale Watching from your Breakfast Table
Whales love the beautiful bays of the Western Cape and on a calm spring day you will see plenty of these giant mammals. These southern right whales are often so close to shore that one is tempted to swim out and greet them. A room with a good sea view will allow you to spot whales without even getting out of bed and at the breakfast table your coffee will be cold by the time you’re done admiring these gracious creatures. Book a room in either of these guest houses around September and you’re almost guaranteed to see a whale before you finish breakfast:
- Moonglow Guest House (http://www.moonglow.co.za/): Situated on the slopes of the Glencairn Mountain Moonglow overlooks the prolific waters of False Bay. Boat cruises, sea kayaks and various other activities can be organized at the nearby naval harbour of Simon’s Town.
- Crayfish Lodge (http://www.crayfishlodge.co.za): On the other end of Walker Bay Gansbaai is the relaxed cousin of the famous whale watching town Hermanus. The rooms have large panorama windows providing excellent sea views. Watch the whales from your breakfast table, from the beach or go shark cage diving if you dare.