- A "supergroup" of more than 100 humpback whales was spotted along Cape Point and the False Bay coast recently.
- The supergroup was out feeding after several months of not eating.
- Jean Tresfon, an environmental photographer, had been flying his gyrocopter around the peninsula when he spotted the whales.
A "supergroup" of more than 100 humpback whales was spotted along the Cape coast recently.
The cold nutrient-rich waters of the Benguela current and its upwelling system triggered by strong offshore winds create the ideal conditions to produce krill – the whale's main food.
Jean Tresfon, a renowned environmental photographer, had been flying his gyrocopter around the peninsula last weekend when he spotted the group of whales.
"I've been flying for 12 years. This was one of the biggest groups I've seen. The sound of them surfacing with a loud blow, the smell of their disgusting breath wafts over you in a fine glassy mist," giggled Tresfon.
Dave Hurwitz of the Simon's Town Boat Company told News24 humpback whales traditionally feed in the Antarctic regions during the summer months and migrate incredible distances northwards during winter.
"They do this to give birth to their young, mate or just to get away from the frozen conditions during the Antarctic winter. The 116 whales that were recently spotted by him (Tresfon) suspended their migration to feed on local krill. It must be noted that it's not whale season in the Western Cape, and this was a bonus for them," Hurwitz said.
"Over the past 23 years of operating as a marine tour guide, I've never had supergroups in the Cape Point-False Bay area before. Traditionally, my whale-watching season is between June and November. On Saturday, the sea was calm and the water was crystal clear, which made the experience just incredible. What I experienced blew my mind," he added.
Hurwitz said on the annual southward migration back to their traditional feeding grounds, the humpback whales hadn't eaten for about seven months. "It was a bonanza for them too," he added.
According to Hurwitz, the number of whales are increasing annually and they're staying for longer. Perhaps in future they won't even move south, he added.
Simon Elwen, director of Sea Search and a research associate at Stellenbosch University, said it was unusual that humpback whales were migrating at this latitude from their Southern Ocean (Antarctic Ocean) feeding grounds to tropical breeding grounds.
"The Benguela is rich in nutrients, and there are lots of foods available for them," said Elwen.
In addition to capturing the spectacle, the boat company took ID photos of as many whales as possible for scientific research.
"We do this by photographing the underside of the tail as each humpback has a unique colouration of white and black, outline and scars. These are submitted to a research organisation called Happy Whale, which uses artificial intelligence, computer algorithms and the human eye to create a catalogue of individual whales from around the world and match re-sightings. We've had four matches of whales that were seen both in South Africa and Brazil, two photographed in False Bay," said Hurwitz.
Never miss a story. Choose from our range of newsletters to get the news you want delivered straight to your inbox.