Having a Whale of a Time

Having a Whale of a Time

‘In our own lifetime we are witnessing a startling alteration of climate. Activities in the nonhuman world also reflect the warming of the Arctic – the changed habits and migrations of many fishes, birds, land mammals, and whales.’

Rachel Carson; The Sea Around Us (1951)

Waterfront Charters, as any regular reader of this page will know, are fierce ocean conservationists. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; after all, we are dependent on the Atlantic and its abundance of marine wildlife as our place of work, play and study. And all three of those activities lead inexorably to an overwhelming desire to protect this habitat for perpetuity. It’s a wonderland (wonder-water?) of surprises, delights and learning, and we have a last chance to make sure that the human element doesn’t wipe out the balance of the remaining species. It’s a scary thought that only 13% of the vast ocean floor is now regarded as ‘wilderness’; mostly in deep ocean areas off trade routes and untroubled by human intervention – for now. As for the 87% balance: overfishing, pollution, loss of habitat, boat strikes, climate change leading to ocean warming, introduction of alien species – it all adds up to a potential catastrophic loss of marine life – over 5500 marine species on the endangered list currently –  and once the species are gone, that’s it. We may as well try and resurrect brontosauruses while we are at it.

There are at least 37 different species of whale and dolphin in South African oceans.

These thoughts occur to us as we sit in the midst of a ‘whale season’ here in the Western Cape. These magnificent creatures came close to extinction thanks to human exploitation: it wasn’t ‘whaling’, it was ‘whale harvesting’, and that gives a perfect indication of exactly how humans viewed these ocean creatures for two millennia. We put them in the same league as sardines: there to be captured and butchered in their thousands, and to hell with the consequences. As recently as the 1930’s – long after fuel oil and electricity had replaced whale oil as an illuminant – over 50 000 whales per annum where being harpooned and slaughtered. Great trusting beasts; they would wallow over to whaling vessels to check them out, only to receive an explosive harpoon in the midriff. But, happily, in terms of conservation, it has the potential of becoming a success story. International cooperation on whaling regulation began in 1931 and culminated in the signing of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) in 1946. Its aim is (and we quote) to ‘provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.’ But what about the whales? Don’t they have a say in the matter?

Fortunately, sort of yes. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was then established, and in 1982 this body established a moratorium on the hunting of 13 species of Great Whales. As with all decisions that need to be ratified by a form of United Nations form of voting system, this moratorium encountered a raft of ongoing difficulties ranging from protecting indigenous fishing rights to ‘research whaling’. It doesn’t bear over-analysing here, but the success can be measured in terms of the reduction in whale killing: from 2010 to 2015 a total of 21 000 whales were caught. That, of course, is if you believe the figures offered up by the nations who seem to conflate ‘research’ with ‘gourmet whale meat meals’. The less said the better about these people, but what can be said with certainty is that whale numbers are increasing internationally, and the sooner we start focussing on other endangered species that are hunted mercilessly, the better.

The best way to celebrate the protection of the cetaceous species is to see them in the flesh. (Or blubber, to be more accurate.) And that is where Waterfront Charters comes into the mix. Whale watching in the Cape – in South African waters nationally, in fact – is a recognised tourist attraction, and with excellent reason. Here’s a fact that might astound even the piscatorial experts: there are at least 37 different species of whale and dolphin in South African oceans. We all know of the migratory Southern Right and Humpback whales, but there is much more to look out for. Believe us when we tell you that no matter how often you come across a whale in its natural state, you will never tire of the sight. From mothers protecting calves to huge males tail-slapping; youngsters leaping out of the water for the sheer joy of it, and the classic Moby Dick spouts from their blowholes – it makes for fascinating watching.

For those looking for more information on whales, whale watching and the best times and places to view a variety of these creatures in South Africa, we recommend an excellent online publication called the Whale Watching Handbook (https://wwhandbook.iwc.int/en/) It sets out all the information required – including species and where to possible sight them – and also covers the regulations that are in place to protect the pods and individuals. There is no point in flocking to watch the animals if the hubbub is going to chase them back to the Arctic: look, admire, photograph, but don’t disturb.

And that’s the way we treat our large, loveable Table Bay visitors. We offer superb eco-tourism adventures aboard our Rigid Hulled Inflatables (RIBs), but believe us when we say that all our boats offer up great opportunities to view these bastions of the deep. The dolphins, we might add, don’t go in for this ‘regulation’ and keep your distance’ stuff: they like nothing better than to cruise under, around, in front of and behind our catamarans.

We aren’t complaining, and neither do our guests if the happy appreciative noises they make are any indication. Join us for a cruise and find out for yourself: we thrive on your smiles.