South Africa’s coastline is one of the most rewarding in the world in terms of dolphin and whale watching. Every year, Southern Right Whales and their Humpback counterparts make their way from the cold waters of the Antarctic, where they have been feeding and building up their energy resources, to the warmer waters. They pass the South African coast during the months between June and December. Bottle-nosed and Humpback Dolphins are, however, common in these warm waters, and can be spotted all year round.
Jeffrey’s Bay offers prime viewing opportunities as the beaches are expansive and inviting. In addition, many of the houses, guesthouses, B&B’s, hotels, restaurants and bars boast an ocean view. Guests and locals frequently pause their dinners and drinks to watch a mother and her calf making impressive splashes just metres off the shoreline, or schools of dolphins playing in the breakers. Image of Humback Whale
Avid swimmers and surfers in Jeffrey’s Bay will attest to the fact that dolphins are a common sighting in these waters. Locals barely bat an eyelid to the presence of dozens of these playful mammals, leaping out of the waves and cutting through the surface of the warm Indian Ocean. In fact, some pods are made up of hundreds and even thousands of animals, providing a truly marvellous spectacle.
The Bottle-nosed dolphin is the most common species in the J-Bay and Eastern Cape waters. They are identified by their narrow beak and abruptly sloping forehead. They measure an average of just less than 2.5 metres. This is a matriarchal society that hunts together, feeding on squid and fish.
The two most common whales to cavort off of the Jeffrey’s Bay coastline are the Humpback and Southern Right species. However, Orcas and Bryde’s Whales also make their rare appearance. The Southern Right will migrate to the Western Cape coast to give birth. These waters are warmer than at the South Pole and are relatively sheltered as they are arranged in bays, rather than being exposed in the vast expanse of the ocean. The mother and her calf will stay in these areas for a few months after the birth, allowing time for the baby to build up strength and blubber resources. Humpbacks also migrate from the Antarctic waters, but they pass South Africa and travel to Madagascar and Mozambique to calve and mate. These whales may travel alone with their calves or in pods of up to about 10 animals at a time.
Image of Humpback WhaleThe Humpback is distinguished by its small dorsal fin, which is perched two thirds of the way down its back, as well as its long white pectoral fins flanking its black body. These fins resemble wings, hence its scientific name Megaptera, meaning “large wing”. A Humpback whale can measure up to 18 metres, but averages lengths of about 15 metres. Sighting these animals off the Eastern Cape coast is a fantastic experience, as they are known for their ability to push their entire body out of the water in impressive displays. They are also known for their extraordinary singing abilities. Interestingly, whales can compose their own ‘songs’ and teach these to their young, who pass them on in their specific whale population.
The Southern Right Whale is distinctive by its complete lack of a dorsal fin and the growths on its black skin, resembling barnacles. There are known as callosities. Their blowhole is also different as it is shaped like a “V” when viewed from the top. It has been discovered that certain Southern Right Whales return to the same spots along the South African coastline, including Jeffrey’s Bay, every year. The whales were hunted extensively during the 19th Century and their population depleted significantly. However, their breeding habits and protection laws are working together to ensure that their numbers increase exponentially each year.
A possible encounter with schools of 50 to 400 bottlenose Dolphins can be experienced during this breathtaking adventure. Dolphins breed right through the year, and it is always possible that you will see a calve or two with the adults. At Bluewater bay area, you may see Bryde’s whales between June/July, during the Oct/Dec season Humpback whales, and between June/October Southern right Whales.