Knysna has been waiting with bated breath for the whales to frequent our waters again but it seems we can exhale! In the past couple of days we have seen several humpback whales passing by the Knysna coastline. Over the course of many months to come, if you head out to sea through the massive sandstone headlands that flank the aperture of the Knysna Estuary, you will find yourself directly in the path of one of the most extraordinary animal migrations on the planet.
Each year hundreds of Humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) and Southern Right (Eubalaena australis) whales embark on a marathon journey from their cold plankton-rich feedings grounds off Antarctica and over a period of many months, they skirt the length of the Southern African coastline.
During this time complex courtships take place and our ocean also welcomes an abundance of new whale life. This incredible seasonal spectacle lures many visitors each year; all those drawn to this liquid domain and the leviathans which it holds within its depths.
Whale watching is a game of patience and anticipation, and whales ordinarily come into view only briefly when they break the ocean’s restless surface to breathe. The Humpback whale however, has more of a propensity for above-the-surface antics and show stopping acrobatic displays than other cetaceans and is therefore considered the most exciting to encounter in the wild.
Knysna is one of the best places in South Africa to view this particular whale species. Ocean Odyssey holds the only permit for Close Encounter Whale Watching in the Greater Knysna area, and this allows us to approach whales up to 50 metres. We have a passion for all the marine species encountered here, but we are crazy about the humpback!
The humpback is large baleen whale species, with the average being about 15 metres in length and weighing in at 40 tons and more. One can only get an idea of their enormous size when they breach themselves out of the water, and all that tonnage comes crashing down making an enormous splash.
During Knysna’s whale season, males gather into “competitive groups” and battle it out for females. Seeing a group of up to 10 or so whales in these mating rituals is beyond thrilling. Humpback males are also renowned for their singing and their underwater vocal repertoire is the most complex in the mammal kingdom. These songs, despite continued research, remain an enigma for marine researchers.
Their evocative singing, exceptionally long pectoral fins, white undersides and love of breaching has earned them the nickname ‘Angels of the Sea’, and we believe it to be a fitting description, because having an encounter with one of these sentient creatures is nothing short of a spiritual.