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Extent of whale and dolphin watching
South Africa is one of the best destinations worldwide for watching whales and dolphins. Annual visits from southern right and humpback whales and the presence of enormous pods of dolphins all year-round provide amazing viewing opportunities both from land and from boats. Boat-Based Whale and Dolphin Watching started in the early 1980s and the government responded to the need to officially regulate and manage this industry in 1999. The sector has grown from ad hoc activity to regulated commercial operations across 28 designated areas, which stretch along the coastline and sheltered bays from Port Nolloth on the west coast to Sodwana Bay in the North East.
Target species, peak times of year and locations:
Although at least 37 species of whales and dolphins can be found in the waters of South Africa, whale watching has traditionally focused on the migratory routes of spectacular species such as humpback and southern right whales.
Every year between June and December, southern right and humpback whales can be seen along the south coast from Cape Town to Mossel Bay. During this period, both species are frequently seen with calves, as they use South African waters for calving and rearing their young. The whales’ annual visits are so predictable, and whales often so close to shore, that that south coast is also known as the ‘whale route’ and a whale festival is held every year at Hermanus.
In Knysna and Plettenberg Bay cetaceans can be sighted all year round with most sightings being those of Bryde’s whales and dolphins. These areas also offer a spectacular scenery of the Tsitsikamma and Robberg nature reserves.
Currently there is limited information on whale watching in the east coast from Port Elizabeth to Sodwana Bay. However, Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province is known as the Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World. Although the largest bay of the country, Port Elizabeth sees minimal sightings of the southern right, humpback and Bryde's whales. Nonetheless, a number of humpback whales are mostly encountered along the east coast during the sardine run, a synchronized migration of sardines towards the warmer current of Mozambique. The sardine run creates a feeding spectacular for seabirds, whales, dolphins and sharks. The season for whale watching along the east coast is expected to be between June and December, with humpback whales being the stars of the seasons.