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Whale Watching in Cape Town, South Africa

whale half breaching out of water

When you think about South Africa – you think safari. The Big Five jumps to one’s mind. But did you know there is a Big Seven? It includes the great white sharks and southern right whales.

Every year, the latter vacation in the Cape waters. Treating you to a beautiful show of breaching, spouting, fluking and spyhopping.

As you can imagine, this makes Cape Town a popular destination for whale watching. Each year foreigners and locals flock to the seaside waiting for their chance to spot these magnificent mammals.

You might be wondering; where is the best place to spot the whales? When is the right time to visit and view these gentle giants? If these questions crossed your mind there is no need to look further. Find out here all you need to know about whale watching in Cape Town.

whale fully breaching out of water

Whale Watching Lingo

Before reading on any further. Let’s make sure you are updated on your whale lingo.

  • Breaching: a leap out of the water, exposing the majority of a whale’s body.
  • Blowing/spouting: a cloud or column of moist air forcefully let out through the blowhole when the whale surfaces to breathe. It is also sometimes known as spouting.
  • Fluking: when a whale begins a deep dive, it lifts its tail into the air to help it thrust its body into a steeply angled descent into deep water.
  • Lobtailing: forcefully slapping the flukes (tail) against the surface of the water.
  • Logging: when a whale is lying in the water with its back and head exposed, and tail submerged.
  • Spyhopping: a behavior where a whale raises its head vertically above the water, then goes back below the surface.

Southern Right Whales in South Africa

Southern right whales average 15m in length and can reach a weight of 60 tons. These magical creatures can be distinguished by their unique characteristics.

They have rough patches of skin covered in barnacles (callosities) on their heads. As well as a double blowhole and long arching mouths.

tail of a whale sticking out of the water

Whale Watching Season

The whales migrate annually from Antarctica to the coast around Cape Town to calve their young ones. The best time in Cape Town to see them is from June through November. The peak season is from July to December.

Top Whale Watching Hotspots in the Cape

Not sure where to spot the whales? Don’t worry we have you covered.

South Africa has an entire route dedicated to these magnificent mammals – the Whale Route – a 900-kilometer-long stretch of coastline. It is filled with spectacular locations to spot these gentle giants.

Here are some of the best stops along the route.

Whale Watching in Hermanus

Hermanus is listed as one of the top 12 whale-watching spots in the world by the World Wildlife Fund. The location offers both land and water-based viewing opportunities.

This seaside town is located only two hours from Cape Town and is the heart of the Whale Route.

coastal view of hermanus bay

The whales often come within meters of the shoreline making it an incredible location. A 12km cliff path with sufficient signage functions as a guide for those who want to follow these marvelous mammals on foot.

During the whale season in Hermanus, if a whale is sighted, a Whale Crier alerts keen spotters to the presence of the whales by blowing into a kelp horn.

If you are looking to have a whale of a time – pun intended – the best time to visit Hermanus is the first week of October. The town holds its annual whale festival then and it is an experience you do not want to miss.

Gansbaai Whale Watching

Gansbaai is a working fishing village located roughly 2.5 hours outside of Cape Town. You can spot the whales here both from land and from the water.

The area has amazing cliffs and inlets, making it a popular destination for the whales. Leaving spotters with unparalleled views of Walker Bay and Pearly Beach and up-close sightings of the Southern Right whales.

half whale breach out of water

Ivanhoe Sea Safaris

Located in Gansbaai, Ivanhoe offers spectacular sea safaris. Its fleet includes a 42 ft. catamaran – built especially for whale watching.

While on the Ivanhoe, one can expect unobstructed views of the whales. The boat can hold up to 40 passengers. However, to ensure a once in a lifetime experience, there are no more than 25 people on a trip. This means passengers can be seated at all times, making the trip safer and far more enjoyable.

Guests have the opportunity to look down at the whales from the upper viewing bridge. This makes for a great perspective. The catamaran also includes dry cabins on the lower deck and toilet facilities. Ivanhoe offers a unique whale watching experience without taking away one’s comfort.

group of people on boat on water

Whale Spotting in False Bay

Located an hour from Cape Town – False bay is populated with countless high vantage points. Some of these include Boyes Drive, Chapman’s Peak and Clarence Drive. For some of these locations, you can enjoy the sightings from the comfort of your car! Just don’t forget to bring your binoculars.

With many roads hugging the coastline, you can even catch views of the whales from restaurants. Imagine, having a piece of freshly grilled calamari with a glass of white wine and watching whales. What more could you need?

whale half breaching out of water

Top Tips for Whale Sightings

  • Bring your binoculars.
  • When trying to spot whales in the ocean, try and look for white patches. These patches could be waves breaking over the bodies of these magnificent mammals.
  • Keep an eye on the white patch as the whale is bound to make an appearance. Remember that the patches often move, as the whales are swimming around.
  • Spotted a huge splash? Keep your eye on the spot, you might have just seen the last moment of a whale breaching. Afraid, you missed it? Don’t worry, they often play around for a while. Stay focused on the spot and you will not be disappointed.

two whale tails sticking out of water during sunset

Final Thoughts on Spotting Whales in Cape Town

Cape Town is without a doubt known for its rich nature, with an abundance of coastal routes, beaches, and bays along the peninsula. As the Atlantic and Indian ocean combine it creates a unique ecosystem that is enjoyed by the Southern Right whales.

Each year they make an incredible trek and stop in the waters surrounding Cape Town to calve.

If you haven’t seen a whale yet, now is the time to get out there and witness these gentle giants from land or on the water! It is truly an over-whale-ming experience. One that you will cherish for life.

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