Dolphin and Whale Watching Tourism in South Africa
South Africa is an awesome dolphin and whale watching tourism destination as there is a large population of resident cetaceans, and many visit here during their annual migration. The most well known of the cetacean species seen in South Africa is the Southern Right whale, which migrates from Antarctica, usually arriving some time in June. They spend the winter in quiet bays between the Cape West Coast and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, mating, calving and generally having some quality time with their families. They are close to the shore until October, with the stragglers leaving towards the end of November. There is an indication that out of season sightings suggest that there is enough krill off the Cape West Coast to support a very small population, so they seem to be staying almost all year
Dolphins in KwaZulu Natal
Bottlenose dolphins are very common and play in the shallows just behind the breakers, so they are regularly seen all along the coast, particularly in KwaZulu Natal South Coast beaches, such as Shelly Beach during the Sardine run when hundreds may be seen off beaches. Common dolphins are seen off the whole South African coast, but usually quite far offshore.
Land Based Whale-Watching in South Africa.
Cape Town and Hermanus are the best for land-based whale watching. Cape Town, Hermanus, Gansbaai, and Plettenberg Bayare the best for boat based whale watching. There is equally spectacular land-based whale watching from excellent vantage points atop steep cliffs of De Kelders. The whales lie near the rocky cliffs, sheltering from the South-Easter which blows from the land across the ocean. Links to Cape Whale Coast Accommodation
More Whale Watching Venues
Other excellent whale watching venues include False Bay in Cape Town, Hermanus, Gansbaai and Port Elizabeth. Between the Cape West Coast and Port Elizabeth, Cape fur seals are easily seen as they live in sizeable colonies, usually on offshore islands, and there are boat trips that specifically go to see seals.
Further north, there are operators on the South and North Coasts of KwaZulu-Natal and also off the coast of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, where some of the main tourist attractions are humpback whales, dolphins and the occasional orca. During the annual sardine run, usually in June, the Wild Coast and the KZN South Coast is a veritable feeding frenzy of fish and cetaceans. During the “run” many animals that usually stay further south, for example Brydes whales and Cape fur seals, can be seen following the mobile larder of millions of pilchards as it heads north.
South Africa's Whale Species
Humpback whales mate and calve in the warm waters off Mozambique and West Africa, and can be seen as they move past South Africa on their northward migration in winter, usually May and June, and then on their return trip to the Southern Ocean in October and November, with a few stragglers in December.Humpback whales are seen between KwaZulu Natal (KZN) and the Garden Route.
The third most important whale seen off South African shores is the rather enigmatic Brydes whale, which is rare elsewhere but quite commonly seen between the Cape West Coast and Port Elizabeth. Other whale species that are occasionally seen include orcas and sperm whales.
Whale Watching by Boat in South Africa
As most of the whales visiting South Africa are either calving or mating, they are protected from excessive voyeurism by strict legislation. No boat, except those with permits, may be closer than 300m from a whale. Permitted boats may approach up to 50m from a whale, cut engines and see if the whale approaches. It often does but, if not, it is to be left in peace.
Any single group of whales may only be visited twice in one day and then for a maximum of twenty minutes. There are about 18 permitted whale watching operators along the coast from Velddrif on the Cape West Coast to Sodwana Bay in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal. The reality, however, is that there are pockets of active whale watching. The most organised and rewarding boat-based whale watching in South Africa is in Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route.