Southern right whales — named as such because their slow speed and floating carcasses once made them the “right” whales to hunt — migrate annually from Antarctica to the coast around Cape Town to calve and nurture their offspring in the relatively warm waters along South Africa’s coastline. They usually arrive in June and hang around until October. These amazing mammals, which average 15 metres in length and can weigh a whopping 45 tons, are believed to live for over 50 years.
Another type of whale that you are likely to see in Cape waters is the humpback whale. Humpbacks, which have long pectoral fins and knobby heads, are usually seen between May and December. Although you won’t hear them from the shore — or even if you head out to view them from a boat — male humpbacks produce complicated songs that can last up to 20 minutes. These songs are repeated for hours on end!
Bryde’s whales — named after a Norwegian consul to South Africa who helped set up the first whaling station in Durban — are rare elsewhere in the world, but can frequently be seen between the West Coast and Port Elizabeth on the east coast. You might also catch a glimpse of killer whales (also known as orcas), sperm whales and bottlenose dolphins.
If you don’t want to travel far, your best bets for whale watching are from slightly higher vantage points along the False Bay coastline: Cape Point, Boyes Drive (between St James and Kalk Bay), and Clarence Drive (between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els). You might also get lucky if you take the train theat runs along the Fals Bay coast from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town.
Hermanus, which has been rated by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the 12 best whale-watching locations in the world, is the obvious choice if you don’t mind a bit of a drive. Southern right whales often come within meters of the shoreline at Walker Bay in Hermanus, treating you to an unforgettable display. A little less well known is Cape Agulhas — you can sometimes see up to 50 pairs of southern right cows and calves frolicking in the ocean at the southernmost tip of Africa. That’s definitely one for the Bucket List.