I have often wondered exactly what it is about a whale that manages to evoke such an emotional response in so many people. They are mysteriously complex in nature and will certainly never be fully understood, however marine scientists are slowly beginning to decipher some of their traits. What we do know, is that they are highly cognitive beings; they’re sociable, nurturing and resilient. Oh, and some are magnificently large.
Whatever it is about them, observing them in their wild environment certainly leaves a feel-good mark on the soul. Our fascination with these gentle giants of the deep has resulted in a thriving whale watching industry. Areas around the world renowned for whale activity draw scores of visitors just hankering for a close encounter whale experience. It seems that seeing a whale in the wild is on many a proverbial ‘bucket list’.
Knysna is one such place. It is a little piece of paradise blessed with prolific wonders of nature. It encompasses large verdant tracts of indigenous forest, through which a network of serpentine rivers run. They all spill into an iconic estuary, which then unites with an ocean spectacularly rich in life.
Throughout the year a multitude of marine life can be seen here, but every winter and well into early summer, Knysna’s waters are absolutely teeming with humpback and southern right whales. Following an age-old migratory route that covers many thousands of miles, moving in huge numbers past Knysna on the way to the Tropics. They come to these warmer Indian Ocean waters from their icy feeding grounds off Antarctica to mate and give birth which means our ocean sees an abundance of new life.
And when they come, people come to watch them. Whale watching is a thrilling pursuit of anticipation. We cannot easily see them as they swim through those cobalt depths. So we wait. We wait for them to show themselves when they need to take a breath. We may be treated to a mere hint of a dorsal fin skimming the restless surface or perhaps a fluke. Or, we can be witness to the pure power of these animals when they breach. Then you hear the collective oooh’s and aaah’s of whale watchers. Watching them is thrilling, but listening to them can be almost hypnotic, especially when you get the opportunity listen to a humpback whales song. If a hydrophone is placed in the water where there is humpback whale activity, one can hear often their complex vocal repertoire, which has fascinated scientists for years because of “its eerie similarities to man-made composed music. Only a few other species such as birds are known to create such elaborate melodies.”
Knysna’s 2014 whale watching season was an unforgettable one. Ocean Odyssey is Knysna’s only permitted ‘Close Encounter Whale Watching’ operation and throughout the whale season their guests were privileged spectators to these extraordinary creatures taking part in the earth’s greatest migration.
After months spent skirting our coastline, they are now heading back down south to their plankton rich waters off Antarctica, where they will spend the season feeding. And then, they will repeat their migratory ritual. And so we wait with baited breath, for their return. Until then, we celebrate the other amazing species encountered all year round, including three dolphin species, the resident Bryde’s whale, seals, sharks, pelagic birds and much more on our Marine Eco-Tours.