11 July 2014 by Andrea Weiss

The whale season is in full swing

You can see whales from the cliff path in Hermanus or hop on a boat and let the whales come to you.

The first whales of the season. Image courtesy of Southern Right Charters

Hermanus is the place to be when it comes to whale season. This town is one of the best places in the world for land-based whale watching due to its famous cliff path that allows you to get really close to deep water.

At last count there were already 24 southern right whales in Walker Bay off Hermanus, with more expected to arrive in the coming months, peaking in October when the town holds its annual  whale festival.

Whale tourists at Hermanus. Image courtesy of Ross Huggett

Southern right whales got their name because they were considered the 'right' whales to hunt as they are slow moving and surface often to breathe. Ever since hunting was banned in South African waters in 1979 their population has grown around 7% a year.

One way to identify a southern right whale is by checking its spout (the way in which it blows water out of its blowhole). Because a southern right has two blow holes, the spray of water it expels is V-shaped. By contrast, a humpback whale has a single spout that rises 4m into the air.

Humpback whales. Image courtesy of Southern Right Charters

A great way to see the whales is to book a boat trip. 

In Hermanus, there are three companies offering these trips out of the new harbour: Hermanus Whale CruisesSouthern Right Charters (whose motto is 'observing not disturbing') and the Hermanus Whale Watchers.

They are each allowed to operate only one boat and generally they run three to four trips a day, depending on the weather. They all charge roughly the same price (about R650 for adults and R300 for children).

Whale watching at its best. Image courtesy of Southern Right Charters

Although boats may not approach whales closer than 50m, the whales often approach the boats to take a closer look.

Boats have to keep their distance but whales don't. Image courtesy of Southern Right Charters

Says Phillipus May, of Hermanus Whale Cruises: 'They're really curious.' He says that they sometimes recognise the returning whales, particularly the albinos. The bull whales return to these waters every year looking for mates, but the females return in three-year cycles as they raise their calves in the intervening years.

Breaching whale. Image courtesy of Southern Right Charters

The boat trips last between one and two hours and if you go in July, there's also the prospect of seeing humpback whales, which migrate through these waters in winter, says Robin Alcock of Southern Right Charters. 

Humpback whale breaching. Image courtesy of Southern Right Charters

In Hermanus, a whale crier is employed to notify tourists of the whales' whereabouts. He walks around the town centre blowing a kelp horn when he sights a whale. 

There's also a Twitter account where you can read about the latest sightings in real time. 

Watch the @whalecrier for the latest news

Hermanus may not be the only place to see whales but it certainly is one of the best.

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Category: Attractions, Wildlife

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