Over the past few weeks the Ocean Odyssey team has been balls to the wall busy with an extensive marketing campaign for Knysna, alongside various other local tourism operators and establishments. Together we have worked hard to showcase the diverse and unique attributes that make Knysna so special. Our primary mission, of course, is to share the wonders of our marine biodiversity, with a strong focus on the migratory whales.
During these recent travel roadshows and workshops, it quickly became clear to us that there is still the common misconception that Hermanus is the primary whale watching destination of South Africa. Hermanus has long been dubbed the ‘Whale Watching Capital of South Africa’. One of the attractions about this beautiful coastal hamlet is the fantastic land-based whale watching opportunities on offer, because one can stand on the shore and watch whales frolicking in Walker Bay. Hermanus is, however, merely ONE of the prime locations along our South African coastline to view these sentient creatures.
The fact of the matter is that the many thousands of migratory whales are currently following an ancient migratory route. South African whale-watching territory runs from Doringbaai, far up the Cape West Coast, around the Cape Peninsula and as far up the East Coast St Lucia and Mozambique. So prolific are whales in our coastal waters during the migration, that there are 14 permitted whale watching companies operating along our Southern African coastline. (Please ensure that you go out to sea with a licenced permit holder). The coastline adjacent to Knysna lies within this migratory route. During the annual migration of southern right and humpbacks whales, we refer our Knysna waters as the ‘whale highway’!
There are written historical records pertaining to the presence of whales going back many years. In an article written in the South African Journal of Marine Science, “sightings of 912 whales were made by pilots at the Knysna Heads…between 1903 and 1906. This provides information on the relative numbers of right and humpback whales before the onset of modern whaling. Very few southern right whales were recorded, but several hundred humpback whales are estimated to have migrated past Knysna each year, first eastwards and then (from August) westwards, indicating that the whales were linked to a breeding population on the east rather than the west coast of Africa. A land station that opened near Knysna in 1913 took only 16 humpback whales in its second year of operation, demonstrating the extent of the depletion of this species that must have occurred following the onset of modem whaling on the African coast in 1908.”
While humpback whales tend to make a b-line for warmer waters up north, southern right whales tend to linger longer and congregate in the coastal waters of protected bays with their newborn babies. Walker Bay is certainly a hotspot for southern rights, but so too is False Bay, St Sebastian Bay in Witsand (known as the whale nursery of South Africa), Buffalo Bay in Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and all the bays further up the coast.
Perhaps one reason people don’t immediately associate Knysna with whales is that land-based whale watching is somewhat limited to Buffalo Bay and Brenton, and perhaps from the top of the Knysna Heads. Our vessels have to travel out through the Knysna Heads in search of them. For 5 to 6 months of the year the coastal waters adjacent to Knysna teem with whale life. Our experienced skippers work closely with whale spotters on the hill and together they seek out the tell-tale signs of whale activity. Of course, it is a wild environment so we cannot guarantee sightings, but during the height of the season we are fortunate to see whales on almost every trip.
Knysna has so many drawcards. It is synonymous with rivers, lakes, age-old forests, a sweeping estuary and whales, whales, whales – making it an enviable bucket list destination!!