This last week has seen a marked shift in temperatures along the Garden Route as we gradually begin to usher summer out. Some may lament the end of the long, hot days and balmy nights. Not us. As winter approaches, we start chomping at the bit in anticipation. Why? Because, when the mercury dips south, our migratory whales head north. And that is cause for celebration. Every year both humpback and southern right whales (both baleen species), skirt our Indian Ocean coastline from early winter right through to early summer – and we get to watch them as they cruise past Knysna.
They spend the majority of the summer months gambolling in the blue depths off Antarctica, where they eat. A lot. During this time, these filter-feeding whales gorge themselves daily with an estimated 4% of their body weight, on a menu which includes a variety of plankton, krill and other small fish. While this may seem rather excessive (considering an adult humpback weighs an estimated 40 tons), with their food intake far exceeding their daily requirements, they do this for good reason. As winter draws near, the formation of the polar ice caps heralds the time for them to leave their feeding grounds and migrate to warmer waters. All the blubber gained during the feeding season needs to sustain them throughout their very long journey, during which time these baleen whales either seldom eat or not at all.
After a summer season spent scoffing, the balance of the year is consumed with travelling. The migration of these incredible cetaceans is considered the most epic of any mammal on earth, during which time they take part in complex mating rituals and also calve in the warmer waters off our coastline, along with those of several other continents around the world. Our winter seas may feel rather chilly to us, but they are extremely mild in comparison to those in the Arctic, which is one of the reasons they leave, because baby whales would find it difficult to survive the harsh Arctic conditions at birth.
Soon, very soon, after travelling roughly 5000km to reach our shores, these awe-inspiring creatures will be filling us with wonder once again, as they swim past Knysna’s coastline, heading towards Mozambique. During our winter months, and even into early summer, the ocean adjacent to the Garden Route coastline teems with cetacean life, with thousands of them travelling, mating and giving birth to new life along the way.
As Knysna’s only permitted whale watching company, Ocean Odyssey anxiously awaits the first whale sighting, so that they can once again show visitors the wonder of a wild ocean encounter with these sentient creatures. It is an experience not to be missed.