Knysna’s 2017 whale watching season kicked off with a bang with the arrival of no less that 12 southern right whales, one of the two baleen species which migrate here each year. The large mating group spent about a week or so in the shallow waters off Buffalo Bay before moving further up north, displaying some incredible above-water antics such as breaching, spy hopping and lob tailing. What made these wild encounters so special is that it is very rare for us to see such large groups of southern right whales congregating in this area. It is always heartwarming to see them in such large numbers, considering that not too long ago, these magnificent whales were teetering on the brink of extinction. All species of right whales have enjoyed complete international protection since 1949, and since then have made a remarkable comeback. While their historical abundance was estimated to be in the region of about 60 000, their numbers currently stand at approximately 10 000.
Images By Lisa Leslie Photography & Johannes Pikan
Pictured above is a mating group of southern right whales. During their epic migration to our waters, ardent males will actively pursue and copulate with fertile females. One female will mate with as many as 8 different males during one courting session.
A southern right whale spy hops among several others in a mating group just off the coastline of Buffalo Bay.
As a whale surfaces to breathe, they forcefully expel air through their blowhole. The warm breath (or exhalation) is released into the comparably lower-pressure, colder atmosphere, and any water vapor immediately condenses. Our skippers most often find whales just by scanning the blue depths for these tell-tale water vapour signs. They can also tell what kind of whale it is by looking at the shape of the spout. Southern rights are easily recognisable by their V-shaped spout.
Southern right whales are enormous in size and can easily be distinguished by their broad back with no dorsal fin. At full maturity these giants of the sea can grow up to 50 feet long and weigh as much as 60 tons.
Southern rights are easily recognisable by the callosities on their heads, which are a characteristic feature of the Eubalaena genus of whales. The callosities themselves are grey and the white appearance is due to large colonies of whale lice, barnacles and parasitic worms which reside on them.
Whale watchers waiting in anxious anticipation for the whales to surface!
As Knysna’s only permitted whale watching company, we are allowed to approach whales to within 50 metres. Sometimes, however, we get a very curious whale. This is what happened last week, when a southern right came right up to the boat to check us out. It is important on these occasions for the skipper to stay put in order not to stress the whale by any sudden movement. This was indeed a memorable experience for everyone on board.
What every whale watcher hopes for: a breach! Now and again, and for reasons still hotly debated among marine experts, whales launch themselves out of the water. It is mind boggling to think that an animal of such gargantuan size and weight has the ability to do this, which shows just how powerful the muscle in the whale’s fluke really is.
Making a big splash!!