Watching whales and dolphins
A boyhood encounter with a whale saw the start of a lifelong passion for artist Noel Ashton. With his wife Belinda he has produced an indispensable guide to watching whales and dolphins in Southern Africa.
Even though it happened over 40 years ago, Noel Ashton still remembers the first time he saw a whale. It was on a wintry morning in Walker Bay near Hermanus and when Noel saw the massive southern right whale in the waters, it left a deep impression. He returned to the spot year after year and over the years saw the whale population grow.
What started as a childhood interest has turned into “a lifelong occupation”. Noel studied environmental and geographical science, and has worked as a scientific illustrator of not only whales, but also dolphins, for the past 20 years. With his wife, Belinda, an environmental journalist, he has created an excellent field guide to marine mammals.
At the launch of their book, Watching Whales & Dolphins in Southern Africa, Noel shared a few viewing tips:
- For some of the best whale watching in South Africa, take the coastal road from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town. Several species of whales and dolphins can be seen in False Bay.
- Southern right whales usually enter the bay in winter, but Bryde’s whales can be seen throughout the year. These whales don’t frequently show their tail flukes or flippers, so look for low, bushy spray on the water.
- The blow from a Bryde’s whale is fairly full and low; a southern right whale’s blow is V-shaped and can reach up to 4 metres.
- A visit to False Bay could also turn up a sighting of killer whales. If you’re really lucky, you might see them prey on common dolphins.
- If you want to see dolphins, it’s best to schedule your outing for the morning. These marine mammals move offshore later in the day.
- Whatever you do, try to get up high. An elevated position will make it easier to see whales and dolphins that may lurk behind the swell.
Over half the world’s whale and dolphin species are found in Southern African waters, so you couldn't start whale watching in a better place.
Watching Whales & Dolphins in Southern Africa
by Noel and Belinda Ashton
Published by Struik Nature
Did you know?
Whales and dolphins belong to the order Cetacea and, along with porpoises, they are known as cetaceans.