THE EXPERIENCE : WHALES & SHARKS
The Walker Bay area is famous as shark-cage diving mekka and one of the best land-based spots to see whales. From July till December it is practically guaranteed that you will see Southern Right Whales coming very close to shore along the rugged and rocky coastline of De Kelders and the Walker Bay Nature Reserve. You can also embark on a whale watching boat tour or –outside of the whale season- on an eco marine trip along Dyer Island (harbouring an African Penguin Colony) and Geyser Rock (home to 60’000 Cape Fur Seals). The waters off the coastline between Uilkraalsmond and Pearly Beach (the stretch of ocean you can see from farm 215) are the breeding grounds of the Great White Shark which cruises the area in great numbers.
Shark cage diving tours are organized from Kleinbaai by several companies such as Marine Dynamics and White Shark Projects (both are accredited by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa FTTSA)
The coastline of the Overberg is the meeting place of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. The warm Agulhas current washes the eastern coast of the Overberg to meet the cold Benguela current flowing from Africa’s west-coast. As a result, the marine life is immensely rich, diverse and specific. Of the more than 10.000 marine creatures on the South African coast, one third is endemic (meaning: they only occur in South Africa and not anywhere else in the world).
The southern right whale measures between 14 and 18 meters and weighs about 60 tonnes. Calves are normally born in August and September in protected bays such as Walker Bay and can measure up to 6 meters at birth. The shores of the Overberg (especially the waters of Walker Bay in front of De Kelders, 20 km from farm 215) are the residence of the southern right whale each year between July and December. Every year the numbers are greater since the southern right whale is still recuperating from the unsustainable exploitation before hunting of whales was banned in South Africa (in 1940). At present the South African population of the southern right whale is believed to be over 3.000, still a fraction of the original population size. In any case the whales in South Africa are now treated very well. The whole of the Walker Bay between Gansbaai and Hermanus is a whale sanctuary and boat access to this area is restricted. The same applies to the breeding grounds of the southern right whale in the waters of De Hoop Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area, 90 km from farm 215.
The whales use the time at the coast of South Africa for mating, giving birth to and raising of the baby whales. They actually hardly eat in such period and continuously frolic and lazy about to as close as 20-30 meters from the shores of De Kelders, a suburb of Gansbaai. There is not a better place in the world for whale watching than in South Africa on top of the De Kelders cliffs. A whale watching trip can also take place by boat. The whale watching boats leave from Kleinbaai, a few km from Gansbaai. Though the boats are not allowed to come closer than 300 meters from any whales, this rule does not apply to the whales themselves and they often curiously come within a few meters of the whale watching boat.
The great white shark is protected in South Africa since 1991 and their numbers in South African waters still keep rising.
The largest known great white shark was caught in 1987 at Gansbaai and measured 6 meters. Attacks on humans by Great White Sharks are very rare. Humans simply do not feature on their menu, but on occasion mistake (mostly) a surfer for a seal, their favourite food.
The best time to see the great white shark is in winter, between February and October. Shark diving is a growing industry in the Gansbaai area. Shark diving boats leave from the small harbour in Kleinbaai on course to the area around Dyer Island where the Great white shark is most abundant. Shark diving takes place in cages that are lowered from the boat. The sharks are lured to the boat with remains of fish connected to a rope. There has been some discussion whether this method of shark viewing has any effect on the natural behaviour of the sharks, but is has now been established they spend 5 minutes at the most per day around the sharkboats, so the effect is considered by most to be minimal and therefore acceptable. Whatever the marine biologists will agree on in the end of the day, almost all of the shark boat operators act in a very responsible manner and are an essential source of information for all studies on the great white shark.
Dyer Island (actually neighbouring Geyser rock) is the home of more than 50.000 cape fur seals and one of two of their breeding colonies in the area. Boat tours to the Island leave from Kleinbaai as well and take you into the narrow “channel” between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. It is a fabulous thing to see such a multitude of seals swim, jump and play around. That is, if you can stand the smell. They do smell. Cape fur seals are the staple diet of the great white shark by the way.
Dyer Island itself (9km south-east of Kleinbaai) is a bird reserve managed by Cape Nature Conservation and strongly supported by the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, an initiative of Wilfred Chivell of Dyer Island Cruises. A few thousand African penguins (other name is the Jackass penguin) share the island with the rare African black oystercatcher and other endangered or vulnerable bird species such as petrels, terns, gulls, egrets and cormorants. Dyer Island itself is strictly off-limits for anyone that is not involved in the nature conservation efforts on the island. As a result of years and years of guano-harvesting, the African penguins have a lack of nest-making material to protect their chicks against seagulls. Dyer Island Conservation Trust has developed artificial nests to fill the gap. These artificial nests are costly and you can help by buying one or more nests. Contact us and we will inform you where you can purchase your own penguin nests.