When I moved to Witsand permanently in December 2003, I immediately became involved with the tourism industry and the marketing of Witsand as a holiday destination both locally and internationally.
Other than the Breede River and the plethora of activities it offers, the next best local and international attraction is the annual migration of the Southern Right Whales to our shores.
These gentle giants of the sea arrive to calve and mate and can be seen in the bay during the months of May/June to October/November. Witsand is privileged to get the lion’s share of these majestic mammals annually, thus making us known as the whale nursery of South Africa.
The Southern Right Whale, or Eubalaena australis, joins Blue Whales and Humpbacks in the baleen family. These filter feeders’ main source of food is krill and copepods. They are dark grey to black and sometimes have some white patches underneath.
These gentle giants are very playful and curious around people and can often be seen trying to give kayakers and skiers a ride on their back. They also interact socially with dolphins and Humpbacks. They are slow swimmers, taking their time through life at a speed of around 5 km/h; then again, we all may move a bit slower if we weighed in at an average of 47 tonnes!
Pregnancies last just over a year, with only one calf being born. These calves average around one-and-a-half tonnes at birth and suckle until they are around six months old. They can drink up to 600L of milk a day, which helps them build up the blubber they need to stay warm. With such an appetite, it’s no wonder they put on around 90 kg per day.
Due to the sensitivity of the breeding and calving in the bay, no boat-based whale watching is allowed, but these magnificent creatures are clearly visible from the beach and look-out spots along our coastline.
Right whales have no dorsal fins, and the Southern Right Whale is no different. This is one of the key factors in identifying these large mammals.
Another well-known identifier is the calluses that form on their heads, known as callosities. Each whale has a unique pattern, just like we have fingerprints, that allows conservationists and researchers to spot individuals. Seeing as these amazing creatures can live up to 100 years, it helps to know who’s who in the zoo.
The Mammal Research Institute Whale Unit recently posted its first aerial survey for the year. You can find more information here.
Run by the Mammal Research Institute Whale Unit, the “Adopt-a-whale” campaign is for the raising of much-needed funds to continue the research and conservation of the Southern Right Whale, to either co-adopt or to fully adopt one of the best know Southern Right whales, please do so here, and help conserve our gentle giants.
And finally, for some amazing aerial photos of the area and marine life; the marine conservation photographer Jean Tresfon posts regularly and covers a vast area of the Western Cape’s coastline; you can follow him on Facebook.
Breedezicht Lifestyle Estate in Witsand gives you the perfect viewing opportunity. There are many activities in the area, and whale watching is one of the most satisfying. Buy a completed house, or even a stand and build your own home, from where you can sit and relax while watching the whales.