Thursday, 2 October 2014

Half ton testis but no Free Willy - whale watching around the world

I have been a fan of the whale for as long as I can remember; their immense but restrained power, their journey, their underwater symphony.  They truly are the most magical of creatures and I have been fortunate enough to witness this magic on a few occasions. 

It's that time of the year again when South Africa's coastal waters are visited by these gentle giants seeking our warmer climates that are more suited to mating, calving and looking after young.  One of our best spots for watching this whale activity is Hermanus, a town just east of Cape Town that is about to celebrate it's annual Whale Festival.  The beauty of Hermanus is that you're able to wander along it's coastal walkway, eating an ice-cream and looking down on these wonderful animals. 

Another South African whale-watching hotspot is the Garden Route town of Plettenberg Bay, with well organised boat trips and plenty of opportunity of sightings from land, along the Robberg Nature Reserve and from one of it's beautiful beaches. You can even relax and enjoy the magnificence of these animals from a restaurant like The Lookout Deck or Enrico's.

If you're keen to get out on a bit more of an adventure, with plenty of whales (if you're there at this, the right time of the year), you can take on the Whale Trail.  A 5 day hike, that takes you into the heart of the De Hoop Nature Reserve, a very special part of this country.

Spot the whale tail
A few years ago we travelled through Argentina and spent a bit of time (when I could tear myself away from the steak) exploring the Valdes Peninsula, South America's most famous whale-watching location.  Argentinians seem to enjoy dressing tourists up like idiots (if the sock fits....) but their boat excursions out into the calm waters are absolutely fantastic.  We spent hours in amongst whales and their young and I must be honest, I'm not sure who was watching who.  The areas shoreline drops away steeply, which also provides great land-based viewing, and if you ever get the chance I highly recommend camping on one of these beaches.  I will never forget lying in a tent, falling asleep to the sounds of whales passing by, just metres away.

In Argentina I also discovered some amazing things about these creatures.  To keep you interested I will let you in on just 1 fact and 1 sad truth.  Southern Right Whales have testicles that each weigh in the region of 500kg.  That's a ton of testicles, which is far more than any other animal or whale currently calling earth home.  Southern Right's are docile by nature and because of this have been heavily targeted by whalers, leading to the species endangered status.  If only they could use their testis in some sort of defence manouevre.

A trip to Iceland, a while back, provided us with the opportunity of another whale-watching adventure with a difference.  We (again) were dressed to kill (and I'm sure you'll agree - I looked amazing), it was snowing and it seriously seemed as if the sea had something against us.  Putting aside the freezing conditions and waves of nausea, we ended up having a great time, with our first ever Minke sighting.  
We should feel priveleged to share our world with such a beautiful being.    
'Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace'
                           - Albert Schweitzer

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