South Africa has some of the best land- and boat-based whale watching in the world. During winter and spring Southern Right whales migrate to the Cape and South Coast shores from their feeding grounds in Antarctica. They will spend a few months in these warmer waters calving their young and then waiting for them to grow strong enough to make the journey back to Antarctica.
Southern Right whales are the species most commonly seen in the Cape’s waters due to their numbers and highly predictable habits. However, they are not the only whales to visit these shores; Blue whales are occasionally sighted off the coast of Cape Point, while Bryde whales are seen all year round, albeit infrequently, and orcas are seen very occasionally along the whole coast.
The best places to watch whales from the shore include Walker Bay from either Hermanus or Gansbaai, False Bay and much of the Cape Peninsula coast, De Hoop Nature Reserve and Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route. While you can often get a better view in False Bay or Walker Bay from the shore, in most other places you will get a much more satisfactory sighting from a boat.
If you wish to partake in a whale watching trip ensure that the company you plan to use is registered and in possession of valid documentation. Whale watching boats need to have a permit from Marine and Coastal Management, and they operate under very strict rules pertaining to how close they may approach whales, the length of time they may stay with them, and how many times any whale or group of whales can be approached in any one day.
You will find licensed boats in most of the good whale watching destinations along the coast, with each bay, or side of a bay, limited to one licensed boat. Plettenberg Bay, which is one of the most prolific cetacean-watching sites in the world, is an exception with two licensed operators. Most of the whale watching boats are big, powerful, very seaworthy craft that are easy to board, and offer a comfortable ride. This allows for greater enjoyment of the trip and can give you greater confidence in taking your expensive camera equipment onboard to get a close-up snap of these majestic beasts.
Whether you choose to observe the whales from the solid comfort of the shore or from the deck of a powerful boat, the playful nature of these great creatures is a delight to observe. With many whale watching activity tours conducted from Cape Town all along the coast, you needn’t miss out on seeing these visitors to our shores.