Unbelievable Sighting of Hundreds of Whales off South African Coast – Photos by Jean Tresfon

By Jean Tresfon

Wildlife photographers are always in search of that one perfect shot, either a unique animal or encounter or behaviour not seen before. But after today I realise that it’s possible to have an experience that’s just so unbelievable it defies the ability to truly capture the moment in either pixels or words… writes marine conservation photographer Jean Tresfon.

Just one of three large supergroups of humpback whales feeding in close proximity. I would guess there were several hundred humpbacks all within a square kilometre of ocean. Truly a very special and almost unbelievable sight! Think of the size of each of these animals and try and imagine the true scale of this spectacle.

With many reports of large numbers of humpback whales spotted along the West Coast over the past few weeks I’ve been meaning to take a flight up that way but have not had the chance until now.

Finally, the wind dropped, the skies cleared and the day dawned perfect for flying.

Both my passenger and my wingman pulled out so with just a spare fuel can on the back seat for company I lifted into the skies and headed north along the coast.


Humpback whales surfacing with mouths full and pleats distended…

Visibility was not fantastic with a heavy haze lying over the land but once over the water, it cleared up.

The recent big swells have both stirred up a lot of sediment from the seabed and created some massive rip currents along the coast.

Sixteen Mile Beach in the foreground, Kraal Bay in the middle and Langebaan town in the background.
Dassen Island (with House Bay in the foreground) with Table Mountain just peaking out of the haze in the background.

Overhead Yzerfontein I checked in with the airforce ATC at Langebaan and was cleared to climb up high and head across to Dassen Island.

I could already see the telltale plumes and big splashes from a long way off and found three separate superpods of tightly grouped humpback whales in a massive feeding aggregation.

I would guess there were several hundred whales gathered together and that’s just the animals I could see on the surface.

I tried hard to take an image that would show the unbelievable scene playing out on the surface below but nothing comes close to being there and seeing it firsthand.

I circled overhead for a while, alone in the sky and the only human with a front-row seat for this truly astounding natural spectacle.

More humpback whale madness…
With some many whales around the challenge becomes one of trying to find some sort of order in the chaos… not an easy task!

Eventually, good sense prevailed and I decided I was pushing my luck spending too much time over the water and headed back to shore, continuing further up the coast.

There were many more pods, all the way up to Cape Columbine and beyond, all with the whales diving down and surfacing with their pleats distended and mouths bulging.

Here and there the surface of the sea turned red as the whales voided their bowels giving a hint to the colour of their food source.

After several hours in the air, I landed at Saldanha airfield for a quick pit stop to throw in some fuel and then set course for home, routing along the eastern side of Langebaan lagoon before heading back along the coast.

Langebaan town and Schaapen Island.
Terns flying low over the beach near Silverstroomstrand.

As I write this some nine hours later I’m still on a high from what turned out to be a very special flight.

From time to time I help researchers with aerial surveys to count whales and have seen my fair share, but this was something truly special, something that to the best of my knowledge cannot be seen on the same scale anywhere else in the world.

We live in a very special place! #ilovecapetown #weskusisdiebeskus

By Jean Tresfon

Please see more photos on Jean Tresfon’s original post here:

Wildlife photographers are always in search of that one perfect shot, either a unique animal or encounter, or behaviour…

Posted by Jean Tresfon – Marine Conservation Photographer on Thursday, November 28, 2019

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: