Whale Protection
Friday, 26 October 2007
Right whales were named by whalers who considered them the "right" whales to hunt, since they were rich in blubber, they were easy to catch (they are relatively slow swimmers) and they floated after being killed.

Like the Humpback, commercial whaling decimated Southern Right Whale numbers. Its habit of lingering in bays and sheltered coastal areas made it an easy target - it had virtually disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century. Fortunately, with strong protection its numbers have gradually increased since the early 1970s, and the species is returning to most of its former range.

Aerial surveys of the South African coastline flown annually since 1971 have shown that the population has increased at 7% a year, equivalent to a doubling of the population every 10 years. The southern whales are more abundant (the South African population is about 3 000, and the total southern hemisphere population is about 8 000) but are still vulnerable to extinction. The population visiting South Africa is estimated to be still less than 10% of its original size.

South Africa doesn’t allow boats any closer than 300 metres from a whale without a permit and 50 metres with a permit - although this doesn’t stop the whales from coming close to the boats themselves, which they often do! Approaching whales is done quietly, without motors and at ‘no wake speed’. We are also the only country in the world, so far, with an established environmental court (in Hermanus) where poachers of protected marine species are tried for their offences.

The number of legal boat-based permits is limited. South Africa’s coast is divided into sections, for whale watching, and each section has only one permit holder for boat cruises. Boats are also not allowed anywhere near cow-calf pairs. If this does happen accidentally, guides know to leave the area straight away at a constant slow ‘no wake speed’ so that as little intrusion as possible occurs.