How to spot a whale

Make the most of your whale watching experience by following these tips…

Winter time is whale watching time in Mossel Bay, as the Southern Right whales migrate to the coastal waters of the Western Cape to mate and calve.

You can meet them up close and personal during a boat-based whale watching excursion on the Romonza, or – if you’re lucky – see them from one of the many elevated spots along our coastline. The Point area, Dana Bay, Reebok (Midbrak) and the St Blaize hiking route provide great vantage points for whale watching.

 Here is what you might see:

  • Blowing: a spout of water vapour that erupts when a whale expels air through its blowhole. From a distance, it looks like puffs of smoke.
  • Breaching: a majestic leap out of the water. Whales sometimes breach up to eight times in a row.
  • Lobtailing: when a whale – often loudly – slaps its tail on the water.
  • Spy-hopping: when a whale lifts its head out of the water to have a look around.

Not sure what to look out for? Here are some tips that may help you see and identify them, and what they look like at the surface.

  • Scan from left to right, slowly, and then back again. Look close to the shore, and look out across the horizon. Watch for anything that breaks the surface of the water.
  • Look out for the Romonza (Mossel Bay’s only licensed whale watching boat) – especially if it heads out and stops in the middle of the bay.
  • Observe other people. When you see crowds with binoculars and cameras, all looking and gesturing in the same direction, they have probably seen something interesting in the water – probably a whale!
  • If you see something that looks like a blow, keep watching! Some whales can dive for 10 minutes, or longer, so keep looking in the general area where you first saw the blow.
  • If you see a whale’s tail, it is likely going down for a dive, and it will be a few minutes before you see it again.
  • A big splash may indicate that a whale has just breached. Whales sometimes breach up to eight times in succession, so keep looking!


Facts about Southern Right Whales

Adult Southern right whales can measure up to 15.5m and weigh as much as 60 tons. Females are larger than males. Calves are 4m in length at birth.

You can identify a Right whale by its stocky body, lack of a dorsal fin and callosities (raised patches of roughened skin). Its tail is broad, black and deeply notched with a smooth trailing edge.

Life History
Females give birth to their first calf at about 8-10 years old. Gestation and weaning both last about a year. Females produce calves every 3 to 4 years. It is thought that right whales live at least 50 years, but there are few data on their longevity; closely related species may live over 100 years.

The primary food source for southern right whales is zooplankton (copepods and krill).

Did You Know?

  • Right whales are the rarest of all large whale species and among the rarest of all marine mammal species.
  • Right whale populations were historically severely depleted by commercial whaling.


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