Sunrise by Whale-Light
It’s dawn, at the height of the whale season in Hermanus. I’m sitting on the rocks gazing out to sea at the old harbour.
This is surely the most eco-friendly place in the world to see whales. I need no boat, no car. I need do nothing but walk along the scenic cliff paths.
I think I’m alone.
But a loud sigh and a splash alerts me to the presence of a southern right whale, hardly 50 metres away.
Her giant fin shows, then her tail, then part of her back. She seems to be rolling blissfully in the kelp, and I can clearly see the white callosities on her head. She exhales again through her blowhole, and the fishy mist of it hangs above her like a blessing.
It’s only when I look up at the wall near the car park that I notice there are other people watching her too - at least five of them.
Their faces are lit by the rising sun, and I am struck by their silence. There’s a kind of reverence about it. If they speak to one another, it is in whispers. Suddenly I have to blink back a bright uprush of unbidden tears.
Every other time I have been among whalewatchers since, the same thing has happened. Amid crashing waves and soughing wind and shrieking seagulls, they whisper.
In the early 1900s, a whale like this would have been loudly pursued with boats and shouting people with harpoons. Whaling officially stopped in South Africa as recently as 1979.
And now this respectful silence…