Aggregation of southern right whale adults, milling around

Whale watching in False Bay – the whales

Callosities on this whale's head are clearly visible
Callosities on this whale’s head are clearly visible

Our recent whale watching trip in False Bay started quietly, with a search for the whales, who appeared to be having a lazy Saturday. We eventually found a pair, just chilling off Strandfontein Beach. The behaviour is called “logging”, for obvious reasons. They were in about 10 metres of water, and apparently sometimes rub their bellies on the sandy bottom in very shallow water. It must be a nice way to exfoliate!

Moving towards Seal Island, we were able to get quite close to a fairly rowdy group of male southern right whales making overtures towards a single female, who was not interested in their propositions. Whales are among the only creatures who can be relaxed in the immediate vicinity of Seal Island! After a while the female whale headed off in a northerly direction, trailed by a lone male who still seemed to fancy his chances. It’s tough, being a whale.

Southern right whales in False Bay
Southern right whales in False Bay

We also spotted a few other whales, lazily relaxing on the surface. We saw them dive a couple of times – this is my favourite thing, because you get to see their beautiful tail flukes. They also leave a smooth mark on the surface called a footprint as they submerge themselves. The other wonderful thing about being close to whales is hearing them breathe. The sound is almost electronic – to me it resembles a piece of industrial equipment. It’s very powerful and loud, and when we stayed in De Kelders we could hear whales breathing all night.

Tail flukes of a southern right whale
Tail flukes of a southern right whale

It takes a sensitive skipper to approach the whales without them feeling cut off or trapped. Our skipper always stayed off to the side of the whales, never approaching them head on. In this way they didn’t need to adjust their movements to allow for the boat – they could just continue with their natural behaviour. On the day we went to sea, the swell was huge, and this provided an added degree of complexity to the skipper’s job.

Simon’s Town Boat Company is run by Dave Hurwitz. They have a very smooth operation and it is well worth taking a trip with them. Ordinary boaters and watercraft are not allowed within 300 metres of a whale (unless the whale surfaces right next to you!) but because the Boat Company has a whale watching licence for False Bay, they are allowed to approach to within 50 metres of whales.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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