South Africa’s cetaceans

In the waters of South Africa alone, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans converge, there are at least 37 species of whales and dolphins, and over 1,200 miles of whale watching coastline.

During the winter months Humpback whales migrate through the region, and Southern Right whales (with a population estimate of c. 5,000,6000 in 2014) migrate into the coastal waters of the Western Cape to calve and nurse their young. Further offshore, Bryde’s whales can be found all year round.

Copyright (c) Lloyd Edwards / Raggy Charters

South Africa now has some of the strictest whale legislation in the world, the Southern Right whales, in particular, have responded very positively to this additional protection, increasing their numbers every year.

Many whale species migrate up the coasts of Africa, passing through the waters of South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania and beyond.


Whales and dolphins remain threatened by climate change, overfishing, bycatch, habitat loss, and pollution, as well as hunting and capture for the captivity trade.

One factor affecting cetaceans along the KwaZulu–Natal coast is shark nets. These are used to protect bathers against shark attacks, covering 37 beaches and 320km of coastline. According to the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board Maritime Centre of Excellence (KZNSB), which own and maintain these nets, the average number of dolphins incidentally caught between 2010-2014 was 30 annually, with only one released alive each year.  Similarly, 8.2 whales on average were caught each year, though a much higher percentage were rescued with on average 6.2 of these whales released alive annually.

South Africa’s tourist stream

South Africa’s tourism numbered 8.9 million people in 2015.  European visitors contributed 14% of tourist flow, whilst visitors from other African countries surpassed all other groups contributing to 76% of tourists in 2015. (Source: South African Tourism Strategic Research Unit). These numbers are a positive sign for the exchange of best practice for responsible cetacean tourism within southern Africa, with resulting future generations of ‘whale friendly’ advocates likely.

copyright: Lloyd Edwards