Port Elizabeth Nature on your Door Step - Winter Whales

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Friday, 7th August 2020

Article and Video by Alan Fogarty - a well known Tour operator in Port Elizabeth


As winter engulfs the southern coast of South Africa we wait in keen anticipation of the arrival of the first whales to appear on their annual northern migration from the rich feeding grounds of the Southern Ocean and those surrounding continental Antarctica.

Here they spend the relatively warmer summer months feeding and consuming huge quantities of nutritious plankton and in particular krill which are small free swimming crustaceans related to Prawns and Crayfish.

Two main species of great whale start arriving from around the middle of May to the beginning of June, the first to arrive are generally the more energetic and active Humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae but at the time of their early arrival these Whales have little time to languish in these warmer waters, they have some distance still to travel. These early whales are making their way up towards the sub-tropical coastline of KwaZulu/Natal and Mozambique, some even as far as the Kenyan coastline. It is here in these warmer waters around the southern coast of Southern Africa that they come to give birth for it is too cold in the deep southern ocean during the winter months for the young to survive without the necessary layer of blubber (Fat) they need to quickly put on while still confined to our warmer waters, if they are to survive the cold oceans once they head back south.

The adult whales do not feed for their entire sojourn spent in the temperate and sub-tropical oceans while on their north bound migration.

Later in the season we start spotting the occasional Southern Right whales (Eubalaena australis), the more lethargic of the Great Whales which lack the typical dorsal fin of so many of the rorqual whales, these are whales with pleats in the throat pouches of their gigantic mouths. They are used when feeding, as a reservoir to hold water while the tongue is then used to force the water from the mouth cavity forcing it through the filters of baleen that hang down vertically from the top jawbone, much like using a sieve to drain the water from cooked rice and leaving behind the rich pickings to be had of small fish and krill. They will consume many tons of food collectively in a single day.

As August approaches we find that the whales start to relax down a bit, and seemingly in less of a hurry and it appears as if these particular whales have reached their destinations, areas where they feel comfortable. This allows them to exhibit behaviour which we get to know such as hitting the water continuously with their mighty tail flukes as their tails are called. They can be seen slapping the water with their massive pectoral fins which are up to a third of the length of an adult whale, this makes the fins approximately 5 meters in length. Humpbacks can grow up to 15 or more meters long and weigh from between 30 and 50 tons.

Judging from the number of youngsters we see off the coast at the moment it appears as though this season has been really productive for the Humpback whales.

The following is a selection of videos taken over three different days from our deck over looking the Indian Ocean in Seaview, Port Elizabeth.

The video serves to illustrate the diversity of the wildlife and beauty of our home city on the south eastern coast of South Africa.

Come along for the ride. Read more about Port Elizabeth and the area on Alan's website. www.alantours.co.za


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