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Increasingly, whales around the world are facing modern threats from human activities, including ocean pollution, accidental entanglement in fishing gear, noise pollution from shipping, military and industrial activities, as well as ship strikes and disturbance from vessels, particularly high-speed craft.

Recreational activities in inshore waters have burgeoned recently, and can pose a major threat to whales either by direct injury when animals are accidentally rammed or cut by the boat’s propeller, or by interference or stress caused from the noise made by the vessel’s motor or from its propeller when at speed.

There is no reason however why boats and whales should not be able to co-exist providing that care is taken to observe and obey the following rules:

If you are in possession of a whale watching permit:


  • MAINTAIN A STEADY SPEED when approaching whales
  • DO NOT exceed 10 knots when within a kilometre of the whale(s)
  • DO NOT CHASE the whale(s)
  • DO NOT ENCIRCLE the whale(s) 
  • DO NOT approach a whale closer than 50m (a whale may approach the boat out of its own accord)
  • DO NOT SUDDENLY change course or speed; or stop. This may confuse and alarm the whale.
  • AVOID driving directly through a group of whales. Allow groups to remain together.
  • DO NOT make CLOSE CONTACT to whales with CALVES. 
  • ALWAYS allow whales an escape route.
  • LIMIT your viewing time to 20 MINUTES. Move away SLOWLY
  • SLOWLY move AWAY if you notice signs of disturbance  such as repeated avoidance behaviour, erratic changes in speed and direction, or lengthy periods underwater 
  • TURN ECHO SOUNDERS OFF when the vessel approaches closer than 300m.

If you are planning to go whale watching on a permitted whale watching vessel:

  • READ THE RULES the above mentioned rules to ensure that you are practising responsible whale watching. (Should you be a passenger on a vessel and an incident or accident should occur which is considered illegal, you can also be fined heavily for contravention of the law).
  • REPORT BAD BEHAVIOUR as a passenger, you are entitled to object to behaviour that you consider being detrimental to the wellbeing of the environment, the animals or the passengers; and report such activities to the Department of Environmental Affairs.

If you do not have a whale watching permit: (this includes kayakers) 

  • If you notice a whale or group of whales in the distance, you may approach them slowly and from a safe angle (see below) no closer than 300m. If the animals approach the vessel, you are obliged to move away. 

Fig. 1. Diagram on how best to approach a whale (or group of whales). Note that if your vessel does not have a permit, you are not to enter into the restricted zone. Source: Würsig & Evans, 2001



General rules:

  • DO NOT swim with, touch or feed whales, for your safety and theirs. Besides the stress you can cause them, remember that, just as in humans, diseases can be spread by close contact, and they are larger than humans and can cause unwitting injury.
  • DO NOT throw rubbish or food near or around whales or in the ocean. 
  • People regularly using vessels in areas where whales are known to occur should consider fitting propeller guards to minimise the risk of injury to them.

By following these rules you are helping to reduce the impact of your vessel on marine animals, and doing your bit to ensure their continued conservation and presence in our oceans.

Revised from http://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/marine-code-of-conduct/


  • Quote taken from NRDC Expert Blog “Save the Whales, Save Ourselves: Why Whales Matter”, written by Joel Reynolds - https://www.nrdc.org/experts/joel-reynolds/save-whales-save-ourselves-why-whales-matter
  • Clapham, P. J. & Baker, C. S. (2002) Modern whaling. IN PERRIN, W. F., WÜRSIG, B. & THEWISSEN, J. G. M. (Eds.) Encyclopaedia of Marine Mammals. New York, Academic Press.
  • Findlay, K. P. (2001) A review of humpback whale catches by modern whaling operations in the Southern Hemisphere. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, 47, 411-420.
  • https://www.nrdc.org/experts/joel-reynolds/save-whales-save-ourselves-why-whales-matter
  • http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/13006/0
  • http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8153/0
  • International Whaling Commission (2010) Report of the sub-committee on other Southern Hemisphere whale stocks. Journal of Ceatacean Research and Management, 11, 218-251.
  • Reilly, S. B., Bannister, J. L., Best, P. B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R. L., Butterworth, D. S., Clapham, P. J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G. P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A. N. (2008) Megaptera novaeangliae. IUCN 2011 Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2.
  • Reynolds, J. E., Iii, Marsh, H. & Ragen, T. J. (2009) Marine mammal conservation. Endangered Species Research, 7, 23-28.
  • Winn, H. E. & Reichley, N. E. (1985) Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae. Ridgway, S. H. and R. Harrison.
  • www.oceansafrica.com/whales-and-dolphins-of-south-africa/
  • Ashton, Noel and Ashton, Belinda. (2012). Watching Whales and Dolphins in South Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Berggren, Per. (2009). Whales and Dolphins, a field guide to marine mammals of East Africa. East Publishers, UK.
  • Carwardine, Mark (1995). Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Dorling Kindersley Publishers, London.
  • Cockcroft, Vic and Joyce, Peter. (1998). Whale Watch. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.

Blog References


WhaleTime would not be possible without a number of partners who are passionately involved in coastal and marine conservation in South Africa. It is a citizen science initiative which encompasses a number of different elements, with whales at its heart. These elements include marine research and conservation, sustainable tourism development and public awareness and education and thus a broad range of partners is crucial for its success.

sponsor logos wildlands sponsor logos grindrodbank sponsor logos bluefund

Book a Tour

advantageAdvantage Cruises – St Lucia & Richards Bay, KwaZulu – Natal


Come and enjoy whale watching aboard Advantage Cruiser (est. 1991 in St Lucia, KZN), and get as close as 50 meters to these gentle ocean giants, the Humpback whales. In 1998 St Lucia Tours and Charters acquired our legal Boat Based Whale Watching Permit and have been operating ever since. We operate within the “Greater St Lucia Wetland Park” (renamed in Nov 2007 to the “iSimangaliso Wetland Park”) which is located on the southern-most tip of the Elephant Coast, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

Although we mostly prefer to launch in the early mornings, we DO some days have a WHOLE day of awesome weather and calm seas. This means we CAN continue doing the whale watching tours if the demand is there for trips and/or it is peak season. So please don’t think there are ONLY whale watching tours in the morning. The whales are on this migratory route for 6 months, and if we do book you on a later trip, you WILL see whales. It is a St Lucian misconception that you only see whales in the morning; they are here the WHOLE day. Obviously some trips are better than others, you sometimes have breaches and splashes, sometimes just pairs of whales swimming alongside the vessel…it is not a circus, we can’t make them jump . For your time at sea we PROMISE you a whale in season, a wonderful high energy boat ride and loads of educational information about the whales and dolphins from your qualified captain.

whale watcher 01Sodwana Bay Lodge, KwaZulu – Natal


When divers, fishermen and eco-adventurers can resist the call of the great African outdoors no more, they return to one place – Sodwana Bay Lodge. In the heart of Maputaland, close to the pristine Lake Shazibe nestling behind the world's highest natural dunes, a short distance from the sea, Sodwana Bay Lodge has been carefully designed to match the rustic eco-orientated nature of the region.

The warm Indian Ocean currents of the Mozambique Channel wash onto the shores of Maputaland. Here, on the relatively untouched Eastern seaboard of southern Africa, wide lakes and extensive river estuaries shimmer with life, fertile swamp and sand forest abound with rare and protected animal and plant species, while towering dunes shelter golden beaches from the lush interior. Venturing oceanwards, the seabed is bejewelled with coral reefs and formations of dramatic splendour, staging an unceasing pageant of every imaginable kind of marine life. Africa's renowned "Big-5" - elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard - are complimented by a rich array of antelope and bird species. Here the "Big-5" can become the prized "Big-6" as Humpback whales spout and gambol close to shore.

Advantage Tours Richards Bay 25Umkhoma Whale Tours, Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal


We are the only Boat Based Whale & Dolphin Watching provider in Richards Bay. Our skippers are highly trained and knowledgeable, and will give you an unforgettable whale and dolphin watching experience! Come and enjoy yourself aboard Advantage Charter II while we give you the experience of a lifetime.



Code of Conduct/best practice on viewing whales

Boat Based Whale & Dolphin Watching

Best Places to view whales

Any high point on land – but some popular spots include:

  • Netford Road LOOKOUT POINT, Bluff, Durban, KZN
  • Treasure Beach Education Centre LOOKOUT POINT, Bluff, Durban, KZN.


News and Blog







HOW WHALE POO IS CONNECTED TO CLIMATE AND OUR LIVES: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/dec/12/how-whale-poo-is-connected-to-climate-and-our-lives


Whale Time – Exploration visit to the old Whaling Station in KZN

This is the time of year that all of us privileged enough to live on the East coast of South Africa, or able to visit the coast should get excited about, as we get graced with the presence and majestic energy of the migrating Humpback whales.

I have been blessed with a unique opportunity to be involved in a project called Whale Time.

Part of this journey has included an exploration visit to the old whaling station in Durban.

DEFINITION: Whaling is the hunting of whales purportedly for meat, oil, blubber, and scientific research. Its earliest forms date to at least circa 3000 BC. Various coastal communities have long histories of subsistence whaling and harvesting beached whales. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whaling

Early one beautiful, crisp winter’s day on the Bluff, I rose before sunrise and headed down to the beach for a walk to explore the old whaling station and investigate the scene of this past time activity.

As I wondered around the site many thoughts came to mind, mainly how sad the whole thing is, personally I never would have been able to work at such a place. I wonder if the company owners, staff or whale capture crew ever gave thought to the whales and their populations. Did the public understand the consequences of their choices? Did they know the demands they were placing on the industry? If they had a chance to go out and catch a whale and see the whole process would they still want the perfumes, lipsticks etc? What would I have done if I lived in that era? How else could I have powered my lights?

Exploring the old buildings, one would have a guess what each building was used for.

I have met a few residents in the Bluff area that remember when the whaling station was still functioning, and what they seem to remember the most is the smell that would waft over the Bluff when an on shore wind blew. Other people remember visiting the old whaling station as part of a school tour; but this was after whaling had stopped in Durban in 1975.

Since whaling has been banned the Humpback whale population have inclined, at an estimated average of 10% per year. This is good news; although whales do still face other threats such as entanglement in fishing gear and shark nets, collisions with ships, and noise pollution.

I encourage you residents of KZN to go down to the beach and watch the Humpback whales play in the ocean where they belong. These whales can be spotted In KZN waters during June/July travelling northwards to warmer tropical waters to breed and calve as well as in October/November travelling southwards returning to their feeding grounds in Antarctica with their newborn calves.

Pictures @Dr Ken Findlay

Know Your Whales

Whale behaviour to look out for when whale watching

Whale Blow

Whale Blow

When a whale exhales, its blow creates a puff of spray, which varies amongst species. The blow is often the first visible cue that whales are present so look out for it. It is also often surprisingly loud.


Breaching is when a whale propels its body out the water; the re-entry causes a spectacular splash. Breaching can occur repeatedly. It is a clear indication whales are present and tends to occur more frequently in windy sea conditions. The reason for breaching is not fully understood, suggestions include: communication, mating, competition (competition between males for access to receptive females on the breeding grounds can be fierce), removal of dead skin, and play.


Just before a whale dives, it raises its tail. When a whale dives it rolls forward and the tail lifts briefly before the whale slips below the surface.
Lob-tailing and flipper slapping

Lob-tailing and flipper slapping

Whales smack the water surface with their tails, as well as with their flippers. These behaviours are thought to be associated with mating and communication.


Sailing occurs when the whale holds itself vertically in the water with its tail in the air (and looks like it is ‘standing’ on its head). This behaviour is not understood, however it is suggested that sailing might assist whales with thermoregulation (helping the whale to cool down).


Spyhopping occurs when the whale is ‘standing’ vertically in the water with its head above the water surface. It is thought that this behaviour helps them to view their surroundings and orientate themselves.

Know your whales

Humpback Whale

HumpBack Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback whales are a migratory species found in all the major oceans worldwide. These whales can be spotted In KZN waters during June/July, travelling northward to warmer tropical waters to breed and calve, as well as in October/November, travelling southward returning to their feeding grounds in Antarctica with their newborn calves.

Description and key identification
key indication humpback

Humpback whales are easy to identify as they have a few key distinguishing features, both as a species (see below) and as individuals (the colouration of the tail fluke is used to identify individuals). The identification of individuals generates a population catalogue. An adult Humpback whale can be up to 15m in length (females are larger than males) and can weigh up to 40 tonnes (that’s roughly equivalent to 20 adult White Rhino). The name of this whale species comes from the humping of the back as the animal arches before it dives.

What to look out for:

  • Dorsal fin - a wide based snubby fin on a hump on the back of the whale.
  • Tail fluke - each individual has its own unique pigmentation pattern on the underside of the tail. The tail has a serrated edge, also unique to individual whales (much like a human’s finger print).
  • Flippers - very long, roughly one third of its body length. Dark upper side and varying white under sides, with 4-6 bumps on the leading edge.
  • Blow - single bushy blow 3-8m tall.
  • Head - black lumps occur on the top of the head and lower jaw. These are high follicles called tubercles. The throat is often white in colour (but not always) with distinct grooves.
  • Belly - may be varying degrees of white.
diet humpback

Humpback whales are baleen whales, which means they have long fronds of baleen, or fibrous material, hanging from their upper jaws, and they do not have teeth. Baleen is used to sieve their prey from the water. The Humpback whale diet consists mainly of krill (in the Southern Hemisphere) and small pelagic fish (in the Northern Hemisphere). They generally do not seem to feed when they are migrating between feeding and breeding grounds.

Humpback whales have a unique co-operative feeding technique in certain areas called bubble netting. The whales blow bubbles while circling below the fish or krill prey, as the bubbles rise to the surface, they create a cylinder of bubbles that acts as a net encircling and confusing the prey. The whales then swim up with their mouths wide open and engulf the prey caught within the bubble net.

behaviour humpback

Humpback whales can be seen travelling past the East Coast in groups of between 1 and 4 animals. They are quite inquisitive and sometimes approach boats. Much bigger groups can be observed at their breeding grounds and feeding grounds.

One might also spot a Humpback whale lying on its side or back with either one or both of its flippers or its tail in the air. Whales’ bodies are insulated by blubber (fat) which can cause them to overheat in warmer waters. The flippers and tail have a thinner layer of insulating blubber and exposure of these to air enables the whales to cool down.

The Humpback whale can remain submerged for up to 45 minutes (in extreme cases); however the average dive is usually 3 to 9 minutes. Their average swimming speed is 5-7 km/h.

Conservation Status
Conservation Status humpback

Humpback whales migrate close to the coastline, which made them easy whaling targets. When modern whaling methods were introduced in the early 1900’s (such as cannon fired harpoons and stream driven catcher boats) in the early 1900’s their numbers began to decline dramatically. Seven Southern Hemisphere Humpback whale populations migrate between seven winter breeding grounds in tropical or subtropical coastal waters of continents or island archipelagos in the Southern Hemisphere, and polar summer feeding grounds. Some of these populations use continental coastal waters as migratory corridors, with one such corridor conveying the Breeding Stock C population whales along the coast of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, between the breeding grounds in Mozambican waters, and the high latitude waters to the south of Africa.

Southern Hemisphere Humpback whales were subject to severe modern whaling in both the Antarctic feeding and tropical breeding grounds, with some 210, 000 Humpback whales taken during this whaling era. Humpback whaling in South Africa started in 1908 in Durban and continued until legal protection in October 1963, although the majority of local catches were made prior to 1918.

Certain Southern Hemisphere populations of Humpback whales appear to be undergoing considerable recovery from whaling in some wintering grounds including those that migrate through the south-western Indian Ocean, where an annual increase rate of some 10% per annum over the period 1988 to 2002 has been estimated. Their present conservation status according to the IUCN’s Red List is “Least Concern”. While it seems that stocks are recovering, entanglement in fishing gear and shark nets, collisions with ships, and noise pollution, continue to impact the whale populations.

Help us build South Africa’s East Coast Humpback whale photo identification catalogue, by sending your photos.

Dwarf Minke Whale

Dwarf Mink Whale

Dwarf Minke Whale

Dwarf Minke whales can be found in the Southern Hemisphere in the tropical to temperate waters, and can be spotted on the East Coast of South Africa all year around. They also occur all the way to the Antarctic.

Description and key identification
key indication dwarf mink

Dwarf Minke whales are smaller than the other baleen whales we see on our coast, reaching a maximum of 10m in length when fully grown (females are bigger than males) and weighing only about 6 tonnes. They have a V-shaped pointed head with one prominent ridge running down the centre from the blowhole to the end of the snout. They have a distinguishing feature from other Minke whales, namely a white chevron on their short flippers that extends to their bodies.

What to look out for:

  • Head - one parallel longitudinal ridge running down the centre of its pointy head and white throat grooves are prominent.
  • Flipper - short with a distinct dark trailing edge with a white marking that extends onto the body. Although seldom seen above water it is a distinguishing feature for this species so look out for it.
  • Blow - small, however can spout up to 3m, also listen for it as it can be heard on a calm day.
  • Dorsal fin - semi-circular and erect, situated about two thirds down the back.
  • Tail fluke - these are seldom seen above the surface and hardly ever appear when the whale dives. If you do get a glimpse of the tail fluke it is dark above and pale grey to white in colour underneath with an indistinctive central notch and a slightly concave trailing edge.
  • Breaching - Minke whales can be observed breaching, although not as frequently as some of the other larger whales. They tend to leave the water dorsal side up and re-enter the water without twisting or turning, landing on their stomachs with a great big splash, almost like a giant belly flop. They may choose to arch their backs and re-enter head first much like a dolphin dives. Breaches are often repeated 2-3 times with most of the body leaving the water on the first breach enough to see the dorsal fin.
diet dwarf mink

Dwarf Minke whales feed on krill and school fish. They are lunge feeders, taking a big gulp of water and filtering out their prey through their baleen.

behaviour dwarf mink

They can be inquisitive; they often approach boats and have been known to swim alongside them for some distance. Occasionally they can be spotted breaching and spyhopping. They are relatively fast swimming, and dive on average for 3-8 mintutes. Group sizes vary between 1 and 15 and they can sometimes be spotted feeding at the surface beneath a flock of feeding seabirds.

Conservation Status
distribution dwarf

Their conservation status is listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List; however, Dwarf Minke whales face a variety of threats from human activities such as becoming caught in fishing gear, entangled in litter and, consuming litter.

Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whale

Southern Right whales are a migratory species. Their summer feeding grounds are in the Sub-Antarctic waters. They move North to warmer waters in the winter to breed. They can be observed in Southern African waters mainly in the Cape region; however, some have been known to migrate as far North as KwaZulu-Natal and one should look out for them in June/July and October/November.

Description and key identification
key indication southern right

Southern Right whales have a large round body, which is usually black in colour although some may appear mottled. They have a characteristically massive head with an arched upper jaw and big curving lower jaw. A key identifying feature is the lack of a dorsal fin. Another distinguishing feature for Southern Right whales is the presence of callosities on the animal’s head. These callosities, which are patches of thickened skin, appear yellow/white in colour from whale lice which colonise the callosities. The size and pattern of these callosities is unique to individuals and is used to identify them. An adult whale can reach up to 15m in length (females are larger than males) and can weigh 40-50 tonnes.

What to look out for:

  • Blow - wide V-shaped blow reaching up to 4m (this can appear as one jet from the side or in the wind).
  • Dorsal fin - there is no dorsal fin.
  • Tail fluke - triangular with distinctive central notch and smooth trailing edges, black in colour both sides.
  • Flippers - large, broad and paddle-shaped, black on both sides, often seen above the surface.
  • Head - covered in callosities.
  • Breaching - often breach, normally repeatedly up to 10 times. They lift their whole bodies out of the water and generate an impressive splash on re-entry, a great spotting sign.
diet southern right

Southern Right whales feed mainly on copepods (small crustacean plankton). They are skim feeders and sieve their prey through their long baleen. They feed mainly at their feeding grounds in the Sub-Antarctic.

behaviour southern right

Slow, clumsy-looking swimmers moving at a modest rate of about 0.5 to 4km/hr (top speed of 17km per/hr). Their maximum diving depth is an impressive 300m and they can dive for up to 30 minutes; they often raise their tail flukes in preparation for longer dives. They are surprisingly aerobatic and can be witnessed breaching frequently. They can also often be seen sailing with their tail fluke raised above the water. Group sizes vary from 1-10.

Conservation Status
distribution southern right

Southern Right whales got their name from being the “right” whale to catch during the open boat whaling era. They come close to shore, can be slow and are easy to approach, they float when dead and provide large quantities of oil and whalebone for which they were hunted. This species was severely depleted during commercial whaling and came close to extinction. They have been protected since 1935 and have shown remarkable signs of recovery with an annual population increase of approximately seven percent, a doubling of population every ten years. They are now listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN’s Red List.

Killer Whale

Killer Whale

Killer Whale

Killer whales occur in all oceans of the world - from coastal to offshore waters in tropical and polar seas. In Southern Africa they can be spotted all along the coastline.

Description and key identification
key indication killer whale

Killer whales are the largest member of the dolphin family. It is fairly easier to identify them with their robust body, cone-shaped head, broad and well-rounded flippers, and the large tall dorsal fins of the males; As well as with their contrasting black and white coloration: they have an oval white patch behind each eye, a grey saddle patch behind the dorsal fin and white lower jaw and belly, the upper parts and sides are black in colour. An adult whale can reach between 7-9m in length (males are larger than females) and weigh approximately 8 tonnes.

What to look out for:

  • Head - rounded head ending with a short beak containing teeth, white patch just above and behind the eye.
  • Dorsal fin - is tall and erect in adult males and this can reach up to 2m in height.
  • Tail - has a distinct notch in the middle with black upperside and white underside.
  • Flippers - large oval shape, black on both sides.
  • Breaching - adults and juveniles frequently breach, often clearing the water and landing with a great splash on their back, sides or stomach.
  • Spyhopping - when a killer whale spyhops, most of the flippers may be above the surface.
diet killer

Killer whales are the top predators in the ocean food chain. As a species their diet is varied, eating anything from fish, squid, sea birds, seals, turtles, sea otters and other dolphins. However, the diet of individuals appears somewhat specialised.

behaviour killer

Pod sizes vary between 2-10 animals. Killer whales like all other dolphins use whistles for communication and echo-location clicks for navigation and location of prey. They can reach speeds of up to 30km/hr and dive for periods of up to seven minutes. They can be observed breaching, spyhopping, lob-tailing and flipper slapping.

Conservation Status
distribution killer

Killer whales are listed as “Data Deficient” (Data inadequate to determine a threat category).

Whale Conservation and Research

Conservation and Research

Whaling off the KwaZulu-Natal coast - Compiled by Terry Hutson

The whaling industry in Durban had its beginnings in 1907 when the Norwegian Consul in Durban, Jacob Egeland, went back to Norway and, with fellow Norwegian Johan Bryde, raised money to start a whaling operation in Durban. The two men formed the South African Whaling Company that year and brought two ships for catching whales to Durban from Sandefjord in Norway.

Hunting began in July the following year and ended in mid-November, by which time the two catchers had killed 106 of the huge animals, mostly Humpbacks.

The original whaling factory was within the harbour entrance, near where the whale slipway can still be found. This was a popular bathing area at the time but because sharks were now attracted to the whale carcases, and on account of the smell produced, the whaling factory was forced to move around the headland to the ocean side of the Bluff – KwaZulu-Natal.

Here a second factory was also planned, the Union Whaling & Fishing Company with Egeland and Abraham Larsen  as partners, but this had yet to start operations. In the 1909 hunting season the whale capture rose to 155 whales, yielding 1070 tons of oil, 12 tons of whalebone and 148 tons of boiled bone. The latter was sold locally; the rest exported to Europe. By 1910 the Union Whaling & Fishing Co was in operation with three catchers and in that year killed 233 whales.

In the following years other whaling companies opened, each with a factory on the seaward side of the Bluff. Most of these soon closed down or amalgamated – among the latter were two companies that formed the Premier Whaling Company, which was taken over by Lever Bros in 1914.

Among those that closed were the South African Whaling Co and the Union Whaling & Fishing Co, although a new Union Whaling Co (UWC) would reopen in 1921, again with Egeland and Larsen at the helm and employing locally-raised capital. UWC took over the original Union Whaling & Fishing Co station on the Bluff and after a slow start went on to become the surviving whaling company in Natal. In 1931 Lever Bros sold the Premier Whaling Company to Union Whaling at a heavy loss, and with the other companies having all shut by then, the Union Whaling Company continued as the sole occupant of the Natal whaling grounds, although it operated both factories right through until 1953 when it located all factory operations in the former Premier premises.

The remains of this factory are all that is evident today, and although in a dilapidated condition they are worthy of being made available as a memorial to the men and women of the whaling industry, and the whales themselves that once performed such an important role in the economy of Natal.

A special train was used to take the carcases around the headland to the respective whaling stations. This practice continued right until the end of operations in the 1970s. The whaling season off the KZN coast lasted from March to September because whales would migrate northward past Durban at the start of the Antarctic winter and pass by on their way south again. During these months, the catchers could reap a rich harvest of whales without having to sail much more than 150 miles from Durban.

In the early years the majority of whales killed were Humpbacks but as the number of these migrating along the coast quickly diminished, other species including Sperm, Blue and Fin whales became important. By the 1930s the numbers of Blue whales were becoming less while Fin whales lasted until the 1960s. Attention then turned to hunting Sei whales but exploitation in the Antarctic was having a severe effect on the numbers of different species moving into warmer waters and by the end of whaling off the Natal coast in the 1970s the Sperm whale was the main target, with large numbers moving through the waters off the coast.

The end to whaling off the Natal coast came in 1975 and followed global pressure that led to calls for all whaling to be abandoned. Economic pressure increased when fuel oil prices skyrocketed in the early 1970s – whale catching ships burned between 8 and 16 tons of fuel oil a day, and whaling stations needed a lot of fuel to power steam winches and process carcasses.

Since the reduction of whaling in the Antarctic and the ending of whaling off the KZN coast, whale numbers have gradually increased, providing new interest and commercial opportunities involving tourism.  This has yet to be fully explored in KZN.

Acknowledgements: A Short History of Modern Whaling off Natal. R Gambell National Institute of Oceanography 1970




Increasing our knowledge and understanding of these extraordinary marine mammals’ biology and population structure, through the photographs you send us, will help to improve the accuracy of the data used in assessments of the population recovery and future conservation of these species.


Become informed about the legislation surrounding whales (see Marine Code of Conduct).


Any marine animal may be regarded as “stranded” if it is out of its element and is unable to return to its natural habitat under its own power or without assistance. The development of a set of procedures for the response to an animal's stranding is critical in order to facilitate:

a) timeous assistance for animals in distress,
b) euthanasia,
c) morphometric measurements as well as tissue samples if animals are dead/euthanised.
d) Disposal of carcasses.

In KZN, stranded animals include whales, dolphins, seals, whale sharks, penguins and various other seabirds such as gannets and cormorants. There is no single known reason why animals strand. They may be injured, sick or confused by the magnetic fields of the earth, or beach themselves through not realising how close they are to the shore and getting stuck on the sand/rocks.


If you find a stranded animal on the beach, please contact one of the following KZN Stranding Network members:

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

083 380 6298

(24 hr hotline)

uShaka Sea World

031 328 8222(o/h) or 031 328 8060

(a/h, weekends & public holidays)



This programme aims to protect and restore marine habitats and reduce negative impacts on marine and coastal habitats among other things.


Sea Shepherds South Africa (who have a base in Durban) are dedicated to marine conservation.

Conservation Success Story – Defying Extinction – by Summer Newton

Near extinction

The intensity of whaling in the Southern Hemisphere, including off the coast of Durban, led to the near extinction of many baleen whale species, including both Humpback and Southern Right whales.

Humpback whales

Over the course of the whaling period, an estimated 28, 040 individual whales were taken from the East Coast of Southern Africa. These Humpback whales were hunted both during their migration and while in their breeding grounds; and for some time, even whilst at their feeding grounds in the waters near Antarctica. By the end of the whaling period, a post-exploitation population in the southwest Indian Ocean of as little as 340 individuals was all that was left – a mere 10% of the original population.

Southern Right whales

Hunting of the Southern Right whales almost destroyed the species. Fewer than 100 of these whales survived off the South African coast after whaling. Both Humpback and Southern Right whales were at this point listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN 1996 Red List of Threatened Species.

image whale diveRecovery

As a result of the decision made by the International Whaling Commission to ban whaling in the Southern Hemisphere by 1986, and the South African Governments decision to draft and implement legalisation to limit and govern boats approaching whales (see the Marine Code of Conduct), as well as the efforts of various conservation efforts that were made and are being made globally, these two species have partially recovered in some areas, and continue to increase their numbers every year.

Humpback whales

Surveys of Humpback whales have estimated that the Humpback whale population that migrates past Durban has increased from the mere 340 individuals to approximately 7000 individuals - an incredible recovery of approximately 77-84% of the original pre-exploitation stock. As a result of these recent population recoveries the Humpback whales, which migrate along the East Coast of South Africa through the coastal waters of Durban, are currently listed as “Least Concern”.

Southern Right whales

Astoundingly, the number of Southern Right whales has increased to over 1 000 off the South African Coast, at an encouraging growth rate of 7% per annum. At this rate, the population is expected to double within the next ten years. This is not only a success for South Africa, but is also one of the most important whale conservation success stories in the world. Southern Right whales in South Africa are now also listed as “Least Concern”.

Continuing Threats

Despite the increases in the populations of these species, there are still anthropogenic activities which pose a significant risk to the whale populations – including ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear and shark nets, climate change, noise pollution, and plastic pollution. Addressing these challenges requires international cooperation amongst scientists, conservation groups, international organizations, governments, and the public i.e. - you!


Whale Time Humpback Whale research project – by Summer Newton

The current understanding of Humpback whale migrations along the South African East Coast is in need of attention. Photographic data is important and can be used to inform management and conservation plans. South Africa has no photo-identification catalogue for whales for the entire East Coast region, although some researchers have photo collections which require consolidation into a meta-regional catalogue system.

I have recently started a Master of Science project, based at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), to collate existing Humpback whale tail fluke images from the entire East Coast of South Africa, as well as new images, into a photo identification catalogue. The purpose of this catalogue is to gain a better understanding of the movement ecology and population dynamics of the South African East Coast Humpback whale migration stocks. One of the aims of the project is to determine the extent of mixing across the migratory destinations of Humpback whales in the Western Indian Ocean, as well as the interchange between the West and East African breeding stocks. In addition, I aim to develop a digital map of Humpback whale locations that can be kept up to date, and used to inform Marine Spatial Plans along the East coast of South Africa (new Marine Spatial Planning legislation is currently being developed). My supervisors are Prof. Ken Findlay (Cape Peninsula University of Technology) and Prof. Mandy Lombard (NMMU). Wildlands and Grindrod are also part-funding my research through the Blue Fund - Ocean Stewards Programme.

My hope is that this catalogue will ultimately become the integral part of a national catalogue for the entire South African coastline in the form of an easily accessible online website. This website will allow fluke photographs to be uploaded from the public (see Happywhale website as an example) and compared with the existing catalogue, to gain feedback of any information available on other sightings of that particular Humpback and others in the catalogue. This website will also allow contributors to be acknowledged on the website for their involvement and contribution.



“Whales are nature in its grandest form - massive, beautiful, powerful, and mysterious.  They are ancient, like living dinosaurs, managing so far to survive every planetary disaster and human-caused threat, from hunting to habitat loss to pollution.  But they are gentle, inquisitive, intuitive, forgiving, and sentient.” – Joel Reynolds, NRDC

Their story of recovery from levels that were arguably close to extinction shows that conservation clearly can and does work and that, in light of the trend of declining global biodiversity, should be celebrated as a symbol of hope for the health and continuation of both our oceans and the animals which call it home.

Get Involved

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Get involved


An encounter is the sighting of a group of whales. You may have many encounters during any ONE day. For each day, please call these encounters 1, 2, 3 etc., even if you KNOW that you are encountering the SAME group as before on that same day.


Please send all the photos from the SAME encounter on the SAME day as a batch (so that we know the date, and encounter number, of each batch of photos, and can rename them according to our catalogue requirements).


If you KNOW that you have taken many photos of the SAME tail during the SAME encounter, please try to select the best photo of THAT tail to send to us from THAT encounter. However, if you don’t have time to sort through your photos, we can do it.


We need your photos to help us build South Africa’s first photo identification catalogue of whales.

IMPORTANT: Please respect the whales and follow the code of conduct around whale watching when at sea.

Submit your photo

We need your photos to help us build South Africa’s first photo identification catalogue of whales.

IMPORTANT: Please respect the whales and follow the code of conduct around whale watching when at sea.


About Whale Time

Whale Time is a special time of year (June to November) on the East Coast of South Africa when we are privileged to observe some of the whale species that frequent the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

In particular, the Humpback whales migrate close inshore along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal between their summer Antarctic feeding grounds and the coastal waters of Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, Madagascar, the Mascarenes and the Western Indian Ocean Islands where they give birth to their calves.

Previously decimated by whaling, protection measures have resulted in a strong recovery for these ocean giants that can be seen as early as May and through to December. The peaks of the northwards and southward migrations are in July-August and October-November, respectively.

The Wildlands Whale Time Project is supported by The Blue Fund, a partnership between Grindrod Ltd. and Wildlands. The Project’s goal is to bring science, conservation, tourism and community together around this iconic species. It aims to contribute to updating scientific knowledge of Humpback whale populations and to engage public in whale sightings and associated monitoring of the distribution, behaviour patterns and habitat use of the whales. The project includes the establishment of an online platform that will allow “citizen scientists” to upload photos of whales, to be identified by marine science experts. It provides a platform to develop a coastal community based “citizen science” movement that will bring benefits not only for conservation of the whales and their ocean environment, but also for coastal communities through training and economic opportunities.

The Whale Time project has four main elements:

  1. Research – assess, monitor and communicate the recovery, conservation status and population dynamics of East Coast Humpback whales

  2. Citizen Science – involve citizens in monitoring and research on whales, thus building public knowledge and creating powerful advocates for conservation of the ocean

  3. Ecotourism – put the East Coast whale migration on the local and international map as an amazing conservation and tourism phenomenon

  4. Community Guiding – provide an opportunity for coastal communities to appreciate the value of marine conservation through involving them in whale eco-tourism

The Whale Time Project aims to involve, engage and educate a wide range of people about whales and the marine environment, as well as to promote ethical and sustainable community-based tourism centred around this iconic species.

RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
RICHARD BOOYSEN, AMANZIMTOTI, 10 August 2018, Humpback Whale
Llewellyn Richard , Port Elizabeth , 20 October 2017, Humpback Whale
Llewellyn Richard , Port Elizabeth , 20 October 2017, Humpback Whale
Llewellyn Richard , Port Elizabeth , 20 October 2017, Humpback Whale
Harry Etheridge , KZN WHALE COAST, 08 October 2017, Humpback Whale
Harry Etheridge , KZN WHALE COAST, 08 October 2017, Humpback Whale
Harry Etheridge , KZN WHALE COAST, 08 October 2017, Humpback Whale
Harry Etheridge , KZN WHALE COAST, 08 October 2017, Humpback Whale
Harry Etheridge , KZN WHALE COAST, 08 October 2017, Humpback Whale
Harry Etheridge , KZN WHALE COAST, 08 October 2017, Humpback Whale
Harry Etheridge , KZN WHALE COAST, 08 October 2017, Humpback Whale
Kennedy Wood, St Michaels - South Coast , 19 August 2017, Unsure
Norman Vowles, Amanzimtoti, 06 August 2017, Unsure
Lynn Raal, Sodwana bay, 07 August 2017, Humpback Whale
Nikki Chapman, off amazintoti , 15 June 2017, Humpback Whale
Nikki Chapman, Bluff, 17 June 2017, Humpback Whale
Nikki Chapman, Richards Bay , 22 October 2016, Humpback Whale
Nikki Chapman, Bluff, 02 September 2016, Southern Right Whale
Debbie Haworth, Umdloti, 15 September 2016, Humpback Whale
Debbie Haworth, Umdloti, 15 September 2016, Humpback Whale
Debbie Haworth, Umdloti, 15 September 2016, Humpback Whale
Debbie Haworth, Umdloti, 15 September 2016, Humpback Whale
Debbie Haworth, Umdloti, 15 September 2016, Humpback Whale
Mark Gerrard, Durban, 14 September 2016, Southern Right Whale
Ken Findlay, Durban, 13 September 2016, Humpback Whale
Ken Findlay, Durban, 13 September 2016, Humpback Whale
Ken Findlay, Durban, 13 September 2016, Humpback Whale