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The region of Cape Town is not truly a wild destination! However, it is an excellent starting point to observe the southern right whales that winter very close to the coasts during the months of June to October. The small town of Hermanus, a seaside resort located 120 km from Cape Town, provides shelter to the marine sanctuary “Walker Bay”. It is most probably one of the best places in the world to observe the southern right whales.
 
This whale is the most common one found in Hermanus; it can measure up to 16 metres and is easily recognizable by its callus-covered head. It leaves the waters of Antarctica at the beginning of the southern winter. During this season, Antarctica plunges into the intense polar night and freezing cold. Numerous species desert this region, which become too inhospitable.  The right whale will travel through more than 8’000 kilometres to give birth and reproduce in the waters of South Africa.
 
The sanctuary of Walker Bay prevents all navigation, but the outskirts of the reserves are nevertheless accessible and are rich in marine mammals. To observe them more closely, it is advised to get hold of a small rapid boat or to be enrolled in the numerous excursions organized by the local operators… but with the risk of being crammed together with tens of tourists on a ship specially designed for this! Another solution is the helicopter, not an ecological means: I grant you that, but a fabulous opportunity to observe the whales from above. Be careful to respect the rules of approach and observation which are very strict in South Africa; any bypass can be punished. 
 
Hermanus organizes every year during the last week of September the “Whale Festival”. Criers pace up and down the littoral, sounding horns, to indicate the best observation posts. The sight is enchanting: about ten whales are swimming in the bay and sometimes, get closely as 30 metres from the coast. They are quite demonstrative during the mating season. It is quite common to observe, in the distance, superb flips executed by males soliciting the favours of a female. Among the entire spectacle that the animal kingdom can offer, it is without any doubt one of the most extraordinary.  Imagine these whales flying out of the water to fall back again on their sides in a deafening crash, stirring up an extraordinary volume of water in an immense shower of foam.
 
We look in all directions, playing the game of who will be the first to locate a floating body, a tail or a whale breaching. Suddenly, a dark mass emerges, just like a submarine, breathing out of its blowholes, its long body moving slowly on surface. Then, it dives again, delighting us with a magnificent tail flip in by way of goodbye. At times, the sea lions disturb our concentration or a shoal of dolphins, which are playing on the water’s surface, or even a common rorqual, which deigns to show us only a glimpse of its dorsal fin under the intent gaze of a cormorant drying its wings on a rock. Obviously, this bay conceals unsuspected richness, which are to be missed under no circumstances!

Text & photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra




 
Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale

Picture of South Africa - Southern right whale
       
         
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