South Africa is known as one of the best places in the world for whale watching, with the Western Cape topping the charts! Each year, enthusiasts watch for the distinctive spray signalling the movement of whales along the coast.
Species of whale frequenting the waters of the Western Cape are the Bryde’s whales (pronounced Brudus), humpback whales, southern right whales and from time to time, other whale species. How does one tell a humpback from a southern right? Physical characteristics help us identify the various species as well as their behaviour and actions – for example, a humpback whale has a “bushy” blow whereas a southern right has a V-shaped blow.
The southern right whale is one of the largest species of whale with an average length of 13-18 metres and a weight of up to 40 tons. It is a large, rotund whale with no dorsal fin and white skin callosities on the head. Callosities are rough, calcified skin patches found on the upper surface of the whale’s head, above the eyes, on the jawline and surrounding the blowholes.
Southern rights are baleen whales and therefore have two blowholes whereas toothed whales only have one.
They have a dark to black belly with white patches. These whales are calm, curious and relatively slow swimmers, reaching 9-11 km/h. Their method of communication mainly entails jumping and splashing/slapping their fins and fluke in the water. Southern right wales may live to a ripe old age of 100.
Humpback whales reach average lengths of 13-16 metres and weigh up to 36 tons. These whales are known for their extremely long pectoral fins and a small dorsal fin. They get their name “humpback” from a small hump on their dorsal side located just in front of the dorsal fin. They have dark brown to black bodies with white on the flippers (pectoral fins), flanks and belly. Bumps (knobs) occur on the head, throat grooves and pectoral fins. Like the right whales, they are also baleen whales and have two blowholes. They are known for their magical songs and aerobatic performances, which they use as communication.
Tips for whale watching:
* Remember your binoculars
* Get up high for a better view
* Be patient as whales move at their own pace
Photo Bernie Marques