Whale Watching in Algoa Bay

Winter and spring offer plenty of whale watching opportunities along South Africa’s coastline, and on the east coast Algoa Bay is one of South Africa’s top spots for this exciting activity. Between June and October each year, southern right whales migrate from the icy waters of Antarctica to mate, give birth and rear their young in warmer waters, putting on a spectacular show of immense power and entertaining acrobatics. Humpback whales can be seen in the area between June and January, and Minke and Bryde’s whales are all year round residents of the bay and the ocean beyond, being particularly active at the end of summer as they take advantage of the annual sardine run.

Easily identified by the lack of a dorsal fin and the light grey callosities (callous-like growths) on their heads, southern right whales can reach a length of 15 meters and weigh up to 47 tons. Researchers have observed that southern right whales appear to interact willingly with humans and are unperturbed by watercraft entering their domain. They are a very playful species and also interact with other cetaceans, particularly humpback whales and dolphins. Dolphins are seen all year round in the waters of Algoa Bay and along the coast and are often spotted in the waters around Port Elizabeth‘s boardwalk.

Boat tours from Port Elizabeth offer visitors the opportunity for a close encounter with whales and dolphins in Algoa Bay. Raggy Charters are licensed to be as close as 50 metres to whales and dolphins, and are not required to move away if approached by the cetaceans. This makes for some really exciting viewing as whales breach, sky-hop and sail in the bay.

Southern right, humpback and minke whales breach by lifting up to two thirds of their bodies vertically out of the water and flopping backwards with an enormous splash, while Bryde’s whales breach at a 45 degree angle before landing on their bellies. There are various theories as to why whales breach. It has been suggested that it may be a form of communication, a form of exercise, or a way of getting rid of parasites. Then again, it could be purely for fun – and they certainly seem to enjoy it, as does their audience.

Algoa Bay is also home to one of the world’s largest breeding colony of African penguins, the majority of which are found on the island of St Croix. Cape cormorant, Cape gannet, kelp gull, African oystercatchers, Antarctic terns and Cape fur seals are also found on islands within the Eastern Cape’s Algoa Bay.