Identifying Whales – Whale Watching in South Africa

|Identifying Whales – Whale Watching in South Africa



We must have whale watching on the brain, but most things work in threes so here is our third post on making the most of whale watching season in South Africa. Our first post looked at where to spot them and the second post looked at when to spot them. So it only seems fitting that in this final post we look at the whales themselves so that you know exactly which ones to look for!

1. Humpback Whales

The Humpback Whale is known for its playfulness, curiosity, acrobatics and beautiful song. (If you’re one of those that needs whale song to fall asleep, it’s most likely you are being serenaded by a Humpback!)

Humpbacks can grow up to 11.5m to 15m in length and weigh between 25 and 30 tonnes. They breech more than any other whale so they are favourites for whale watchers. In keeping with their playful nature, they sometimes blow bubbles to make ‘nets’ for fish-catching!

2. Bryde’s Whales


The Bryde’s Whale is often misidentified because of its close resemblance to other whale species.  If you’re keen to identify it correctly, look out for three ridges running parallel to one another on top of the whale’s head.

Bryde’s Whales can grow up to 16.5m in length and weigh up to 40 tonnes. Their tails never break the surface; and they are the only baleen whales to spend all their lives in tropical and subtropical waters.

3. Southern Right Whales

The Southern Right is the third species in the three species of right whale (the other two being the Northern Pacific Right whale and the North Atlantic Right whale).  They can grow up to 14m in length and weigh up to between 40 and 50 tonnes.

These whales are slow swimmers but look out for their frequent tail and flipper slapping. They also enjoy ‘sailing’ where they hold their tail above the water almost as if doing a handstand. Southern Rights are also big eaters – needing 600 to 1600kg of food a day!

4. Orcas

Also known as Killer Whales, the number of Orcas in False Bay has been on the rise since 2009. Despite the name, orcas are in fact the largest members of the dolphin family. They grow up to 9.8m and weigh up to 9 tonnes.

They are an extremely intelligent and communicative species. Orcas coordinate hunting tactics, pass down knowledge within their pods from elders to the young about food, hunting and what to avoid. Different pods even have distinct calls or ‘accents’. 

In search of more whale watching tips?

Discover when to go whale watching here.
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