Overstrand Whale Season
Being on the Whale Coast gives inhabitants and visitors to Betty’s Bay and neighbouring towns the wonderful opportunity to see and enjoy these giants from the Antartic after which our coast has been named. The following extract from the HANGKLIP-KLEINMOND BOOK 2011 provides some background on the most common whale species in our area.
Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis)
start arriving along our coast from June. The peak time is during September and October. Calving normally takes place during August and September and in December most of these visitors have started their long journey back to the Antartic. In season they are the most commonly seen whale along our coast.
The Southern Right whale derives its name from the early whaling days when it was considered to be the right whales to hunt as it was slow enough for rowing boats to approach. It floated when dead and had high yields of oil and baleen. Baleen whales have, instead of teeth, long plates hanging from the top jaw. These work like a sieve, straining their food from the water.
Adults reach lengths of up to 15,5m and can weigh up to 58 tonnes. They swim at speeds between 0,5 to 4km per hour with top speeds of about 17km per hour. They dive to depths of 300m maximum and can hold their breath for up to 30 minutes. Lifespan is thought to exceed 50 years. Calves grow 3cm per day and feed on 600litres of milk per day. They suckle four to eight months. They are 4 to 8 metres long at birth.
The Southern Right population is increasing at 7% pa. In 2000 the population totalled about 2500.
Presenting themselves are done in different modes:
BREACHING is when they lift their bodies out of the water in massive, graceful leaps. Keep watching as they usually breach 3 to 5 times in a session. They can push three quarters or more of their bodies out of the water and fall back into the sea with an enormous splash.
SKYHOPPING: This is done when they lift their heads and part of their bodies vertically out of the water, allowing them a 360 degree view of the world above the water.
LOBTAILING: This is when they flap their tails on the surface, producing loud claps. It may be a form of social communication or a warning signal.
SAILING AND GRUNTING: Sailing is when they lift their tails clear out of the water for long periods. This could be a means of catching the wind to sail through the water, or as a way of cooling down. Whales often grunt a loud bellowing sound that can be heard up to 2km away at silent times.
BLOWING: This is a hollow, echoing sound made when air is expelled from the lungs through the blowhole, accompanied by a spout of water vapour. The shape of the spout enables knowledgeable watchers to identify the type of whale.
Author: Chris Goosen