Good News as Over 1,300 Whales Frolic Along South African Coast

By Jean Tresfon

With all the bad news and negativity in the media, especially when it comes to the state of our marine resources, it’s great to be able to share something rather more uplifting… writes marine conservation photographer Jean Tresfon.

“Two southern right whale mothers keeping their calves closely protected between their massive bodies.”

On Saturday, with a one day weather gap between frontal systems along the Cape south coast it was the perfect opportunity to conduct an aerial whale survey for the Mammal Research Institute Whale Unit.

Early in the morning, wearing multiple layers of warm clothing plus a flight suit, gloves and windbreaker, I lifted off from Morning Star Airfield into the crisp clear air.

The farm fields were covered in a light frost as I passed overhead on my way to the coast at Hawston where I landed to collect whale scientist Chris Wilkinson.


“Early morning frost on the farm fields along the Vissershok River, just north of Cape Town. Flying open cockpit in these conditions is no joke!”

After lifting off again we encountered the first southern right whales almost immediately, hardly surprising since the area between Hermanus lagoon mouth and De Kelders is one of the known hotspots for these gentle giants.

The area yielded a count of 107 whales, 41 cow/calf pairs and 25 unaccompanied adults. There were a few more whales at Pearly Beach, Die Dam and Agulhas and then another big group between Struisbaai and Arniston.

“A total of 11 snow white calves were counted. These whales are not albinos (a lack of pigmentation) but are brindles, having a lighter colouration that will darken slightly with age. They almost seem to glow in the dark waters!”

The next hotspot was at the De Hoop Collection Nature Reserve, from Skipskop Point to Lekkerwater, where we spotted an incredible 1,116 whales, or 558 cow/calf pairs, highlighting the fact that Koppie Alleen is without question the most important nursery area for southern right whales on the South African coast.

“An incredible 1,116 southern right whales counted along just the De Hoop Collection Nature Reserve coast, from Skipskop Point to Noetsie with the bulk seen at Koppie Alleen.”

There were also several large great white sharks swimming amongst the whales and calves. From here to Cape Infanta there were quite a few more mothers & calves spread out along the coast and then another 60 whales in St. Sebastian Bay, clustered mainly around the Breede River mouth and further east towards the Duiwenhoks River mouth.

“So many tiny calves spotted, many newborns in the nursery area.”

We terminated the survey at Witsands but could still see many more southern rights along the coast further to the east! After landing near Infanta to refuel the gyrocopter and grab a quick bite, we set off again, this time in the opposite direction and with more opportunity to get some images since we were finished with the count.

We also spotted both bottlenose and humpback dolphins, plenty of cape fur seals and even a few bait balls on the way back.

“The massive seal colony on the island at Die Dam… First time I have noticed this colony!”

After dropping Chris back at Hawston I climbed up to 4000ft, crossing the mountains at Sir Lowry’s Pass in a rising westerly wind before dropping back down and heading home after nearly 7 hours in the air.

“Those having done the The Whale Trail will recognise the overnight huts at Noetsie… but this time with southern right whale mother and calf pairs in the bay!”

Later on I received a message from Els Vermeulen, head of the Whale Unit, to let me know the final numbers… 661 cow/calf pairs plus 25 unaccompanied adults, for a total of 1,347 southern right whales counted between Hawston and Witsands!

This is almost exactly triple the amount of whales counted at nearly the same time (1st week of Sep) in the same area in 2017, and a new all time record for southern right whales counted along our coast!

Big thank you to all who made the survey possible, especially African Wings who displayed amazing airmanship and graciously halted one of their tours so we could move through the area, and as always to Michael Raimondo from Green Renaissance.

By Jean Tresfon. Please view the original post here.

WATCH Southern Right Whales in Hermanus yesterday:

Hope you had a whale of a time this weekend! Captured off Hermanus… heavenly!

Posted by SA-People – for South Africans in South Africa and expats on Sunday, August 19, 2018

View Jean Tresfon’s original post here:

With all the bad news and negativity in the media, especially when it comes to the state of our marine resources, it's…

Posted by Jean Tresfon – Marine Conservation Photographer on Sunday, August 19, 2018

JEAN TRESFON is a South African marine conservation photographer who specialises in aerial and underwater photography. He flies several times a week specifically to keep tabs on our South African marine wildlife and regularly assists the authorities with shark and whale spotting.

To see more of Jean Tresfon’s photos and updates: