Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis) breaching near Hermanus, South Africa.

Canon EOS 1DX with EF 500mm f/4L IS lens. ISO 400, exposure 1/1250 sec at f/6.3 set manually.

Over 80 species of whale exist and each has its own movement patterns. In general, whales move towards the colder poles in summer and towards warmer waters in the winter.

Southern Right whales are frequently seen off the South African southern coastline during our winter months between July and October when they are mating and calving. The Southern Right whale can reach lengths of 18 metres and can weigh up to 90 tons. Hermanus is an excellent place to observe these whales before they continue their migratory pattern to the Mid-southern Ocean and Antarctica. The whales approach close to the water’s edge and with fairly deep water just off the cliffs and rocks in the area, they can be observed from pretty close up.

Many calves are seen with the cows swimming along the coastline and in the bay in the area. A good spot to observe them from the rocks (also good for morning photography!) is the De Kelder area towards Gansbaai. I managed to get a number of good images here, although by the time they became more active, the sun was quite high up and the light was proving difficult for well-exposed images.

Canon EOS 1DX with EF 500mm f/4L IS lens mounted on a Gitzo 1548 tripod with Wimberley gimbal-head. Exposure 1/2000 sec at f/7.1 set manually, ISO 400.

This image was of a grey coloured Southern Right whale. In fact, we observed quite of few much more lighter coloured whales than usual. This particular one seemed to be sleeping and displayed very little movement in the water. Apparently whales are able to use only one half of their brain when sleeping alternating with the other half.  As they need to breathe it would be difficult for them to sleep with a normal brain function as they would have to continually awaken to breathe.


One of the highlights of our sightings was of an albino calf with its mother drifting in the swell just of the Hermanus cliffs at Tamatiebank. It was white with a few dark spots and the orange coloured whale lice.

Canon EOS 1DX with EF 500mm f/4L IS lens, hand held. Exposure 1/2500 sec at f/5.6 set manually, ISO 400.

Fortunately there was some cloud cover, which enabled a good exposure of the very bright white body of the calf. At this point the calf was repeatedly “sliding over” the mother body. In these two images the tail is just moving over the mother’s head. In the water you can also just see the orange whale lice on the calf’s head.

There were also many of the adult whales thumping their tails on the water, but unfortunately most were further away than I would have liked.