All about Whales

Giants of the Ocean

The Southern Right whale was so named because it was considered to be the 'right' whale to catch. The fact that it was rich in oil and baleen (the large food filter plates that hang from the roof of its mouth) and floated when killed, resulted in this slow-moving leviathan becoming one of the most ruthlessly hunted of all whale species. Today, the Northern Right whale is virtually extinct. In the Southern Hemisphere numbers have increased slowly since they received international protection in 1935. There are an estimated 6 000 - 7 000 Southern Right whales at present, with a large percentage visiting the South African coast annually. Present populations of Southern Right whales are a fraction of initial estimated stocks.

The Southern Right can be distinguished from other whales by its V-shaped 'blow' and the callosities that appear on and around its head. These markings are commonly mistaken for barnacles, which along with other marine creatures, do live on these patches. However the callosities are actually out-growths of tough skin, which form distinctive patterns on each individual. This is a useful form of identification. Whales are large-brained and sensitive creatures. Strong bonds exist between females and their calves. In normal circumstances they are non-aggressive and gentle towards man. As yet, knowledge about whales and the role that they play in the marine ecosystem is fragmentary. However, initial research indicates that whales are of greater benefit to man alive than dead. For this reason, if for no other, they need our protection.

Watch out for the Whales 

The 12 km-long cliff path stretching from one end of Hermanus to the other provides the best terrestrial whale-watching vantage points in the world. Whales can be viewed frolicking as close as five metres from shore.

The world's only whale crier, Wilson Salukazana, is found in Hermanus, where he patrols the streets of the town blowing his kelp horn and alerting everyone to the whereabouts of the whales. Different horn 'codes' refer to different points along the coastline where whales have been spotted.

SOUTHERN RIGHT WHALE (Eubalaena Australis):
  • Walker Bay population estimated at 40-70
  • Adults 14-18 metres long
  • Weight 40-80 tons
  • Calves are 5-6 metres long at birth - weighing 1 ton
  • Calf growth rate, 2,8 cm/day
  • Best calving month: August
  • Pregnancy: Every 3-7 years
  • Gestation period - 12 months
  • Lactation: 4-8 months
  • Longevity 90-100 years
  • Swimming speed: 5-8 km/h

A festival of Whales

Nowhere in the country is the celebration of spring more festive than in Hermanus, where the annual Whale Festival is held to celebrate the arrival of the magnificent Southern Right whales that come to Walker Bay to mate and calve.

 For ten days each September and October, Hermanus is transformed as thousands of visitors arrive to enjoy the arts and enviro-experience that is the Whale Festival.
Around 30 shows - usually the most successful productions from the country's two largest arts festivals - are staged each year and include theatrical pieces as well as classical and popular music.
The festival offers a variety of eco-environmental activities; a children's festival; an arts ramble that takes visitors to the studios and galleries of local artists and other live entertainment.
In the London Sunday Times of the 1 December 2002 the Hermanus Whale Festival is one of the three suggested events around the world not to be missed.