As with the dolphins, this time of year we are all oohing and aahing when sighting whales along our coastline, especially when baby whales accompany their mothers. In the Mossel Bay area, the whales normally seen are the Humpback, the Southern Right and Bryde’s whales. There are two more that we sometimes find along our coast, i.e. the Pygmy Sperm whale and the Dwarf Sperm whale, but they are infrequently seen. These two sperm-type whales are two of a group of whales described as the smallest whales in the world, the group consisting of five different whale types. Below follows some facts about these whales.
Southern Right, Humpback and Bryde’s whales are all “baleen” whales, which means that they all filter the sea water through “plates” in their mouths, feeding on small fish, krill, etc.
Southern Right whales come very close to the shore with their calves, where they can laze in one spot for quite a while. People often think that these whales are dead, but this is normal behaviour for this type of whale. These whales also do not have a dorsal fin (on the back).
Humpback whales only feed in summer in polar waters and migrate to warmer waters to breed, only to give birth in winter. During this time, these whales fast and live off their body fat reserves. Humpback whales are quite acrobatic and love emerging from the water and splashing playfully whilst the Southern Right whale are also active, breaching the water, but tend more towards waving their tails out of the water. These two whale species are also quite curious and inquisitive.
Bryde’s whales are not quite as curious or inquisitive but do occasionally approach fishing vessels to swim with them for a while. These whales can lift their entire bodies out of the water and breach in an acrobatic display of power.
Pygmy and Dwarf Sperm whales are deep-diving whales (up to 800 m). They feed on squid and store the ink of their “food” in their intestines to be squirted in the same way as squid/octopus as a defense mechanism when feeling threatened whilst trying to get away from their prey.
Please note that there are legal limitations in terms of how close these whales can be approached! Again, please phone S.M.A.R.T (Stranded Marine Animal Rescue Team) on 072 227 4715 should you come across any marine animal that may be in distress or injured.