It’s that time of the year again when the beautiful seaside village of Hermanus gears up to welcome back some of their nearest and dearest: the Southern Right Whales.
Hermanus has been a whale watching hotspot for decades, and it is always a treat to welcome these marvellous mammoth mammals back to South African shores – and in particular, the beautiful Walker Bay.
This year is no different, as reports from Hermanus tell us that the whales have already started to arrive in Walker Bay, and soon, the bay will be home to droves of Southern Right Whales.
The whales generally arrive in Hermanus in batches, with the first group of whales usually arriving towards the end of May. Officially, whale season in Hermanus is the second half of the year, from June to December.
By September, the full number of whales expected to make the migration to South African shores will have arrived, signalling the start of peak whale season.
What makes the migration to Hermanus even more special, is that the Southern Right mothers come to the waters of Walker Bay to give birth. It;s here in Hermanus where they give birth and nurture their young in the early stages of life. They help them to prepare for the long trek back to the Antarctic.
With peak whale season being in September, Hermanus celebrates these beautiful creatures with the annual Whale Festival – but more on that later!
Towards the end of November, the whales slowly start making their way back to the Antarctic. First the males take on the trek, then the females with their calves, as they wait for their babies to be strong (and fat!) enough to survive the cold waters of the Antarctic.
The people of Hermanus truly treasure their beloved whales. There is definitely a sense of ‘welcoming home old friends’ in the community when the whales start to appear in Walker Bay.
The annual Whale Festival in Hermanus is a celebration of these mammoth mammals arriving. Primarily an arts festival, the Hermanus Whale Festival is also on eco-marine festival, that has a strong focus on educating people about marine conservation.
Live music, shows and food stalls are scattered throughout the town during the 3-day festival. There is even a street parade on Saturday morning.
This year’s Whale Festival takes place from 27 – 29 September.
Preceding the Whale Festival, is the annual Kalfiefees (Calf Festival). Another arts festival, focused primarily on Afrikaans theatre, the Kalfiefees essentially celebrates the birth of the new Southern Right calves with a fabulous celebration of local art, performance, food and culture. This year, the Kalfiefees will take place from 9 – 11 August.
The beauty of Hermanus is that you have several vantage points from which to watch the whales. Hermanus is hailed as one of the best land-based whale watching areas in the world, so you can simply walk along the promenade and catch these stunning creatures play in Walker Bay.
Also keep an eye on the local whale crier that will signal the presence of whales by blowing his kelp horn. You can ask him questions and gain some interesting insights about the whales, too. The Hermanus whale crier has been a tradition in the village since 1991, and is a wonderful addition to the Hermanus whale watching experience.
If you want to get up close and personal with the whales, boat-based whale watching is the way to go. There are several companies that offer great packages and boat excursions throughout the day. Read more here.
Hermanus and its council are acutely aware of whale and marine life conservation, and constantly educate and inform tourists and locals on these beautiful mammals.
There are policies in place to make sure the whales are protected and not disturbed. One such instance is that whale watching boats are not allowed to come closer than 300 meters of whales when out on excursions. The exception being boats that have a permit can come as close as 50 meters, but for a limited time. All boats can only observe the mammals at a distance of 300 meters for no more than 30 minutes.
This is because the whales are extremely sensitive to noise and human interference can disturb their entire ecosystem.
These gorgeous and enigmatic Southern Right Whales are truly a magical presence in our oceans and we must appreciate the opportunity to witness their beauty.
So, have you booked your trip to Hermanus yet?