Whales migrate northward from the Antarctic through South African waters, passing and dwelling in St Lucia, on their way to the warm tropical waters off southern Madagascar to mate and calf. Both mating and calfing takes place in these warm tropical waters. Gestation is 11 to 12 months and lactation (suckling) takes a further 11 to 12 months. St Lucia boasts the greatest number of boat based whale sightings of all South African waters.
The St Lucia Whale Watching Tour is no ‘walk along the pier and gently step into the boat’ procedure, the staff is quick to tell you as you make your way to the beach. It’s a proper surf launch, through the waves, and you need to hold on tight in order to stay on deck, a thrilling experience, but once out at sea it’s a lot calmer. There can be few experiences as rewarding as seeing a humpback whale blowing or showing off in the water. A dozen whales, a couple of dolphins, with the odd bit of seasickness thrown in for good measure, makes the whole experience highly memorable.
Departure for the St Lucia Whale Watching tour, the Advantage tour office, is about a ten minute walk from Zulani Guest House. This boat based tour takes place during the months of July to November with three tours per day, each taking about two hours in duration; this includes the boat launch, safety induction etc. The tour departs early morning from the Advantage Whale Office from where you are transported to the beach launch site.
Advantage Charters, run by hardened sea dog Danie Bennett, is the only licensed whale watching operation in the St Lucia Waters. This allows the Advantage Tours charter boat to approach whales within the protected 300 meter radius. The permit ensures regulation of the industry and minimum intrusion from boats on the whales.
How did Danie Bennett owner of Advantage Tours and Charters get involved with whales? Danie tells the story:-
“We were out deep sea fishing when we saw a whale entangled in thick ropes and long-line fishing gear. It was gasping on the surface, struggling to free itself. The crew and I felt we had to do something so we jumped onto its back and struggled to cut it free. It could have sounded at any time; it did once, leaving a crew member floundering. Once or twice we injured the animal: the ropes were so deeply embedded we had to cut them free from the blubber. We didn’t know whether it would survive, and in the back of our minds we knew we were dealing with an unpredictable wild creature. Eventually the whale seemed to be free, but just lay there, exhausted. We despaired at man’s indifference when abandoning kilometres of rope and long lines in the ocean. Then the whale seemed to become infused with energy and rolling over, it sounded silently. A few minutes later, it suddenly launched itself into the air, looked at us and fell back with a huge splash.“
Danie gave up his fishing charter and is now devoted to whale monitoring, funding this by ferrying whale watchers out to sea.