About Whales

What can you expect to see ?

 

Walker bay is a marine reserve 6 months of the year. Bientang’s Cave’s door steps depth’s reach 8-40M, allowing marine life to visit a stone throw away. Southern right whales are predominant, followed by Humpback whales and occasionally Orcas. Schools of Common dolphins often pass by. A vast array of bird life such as Seagulls and Cormorants bask on the rocks, you may also be lucky enough to spot the occasional Herrin or penguin. Most excitingly is the rare Oyster Catcher that has recently nested on Bientang’s Caves Piet Se Klip. And has been blessed with “little Pearl” the first hatchling noted in Hermanus. Additionally Otters and Seals can be seen flicking, octopuses in the waves. Cheeky Dassies frolic on our cliff path while shy Jennets peek through the trees. Be sure to keep your eyes open and camera ready!

Research Source: WHALES, DOLPHINS, & PORPOISES - Mark Carwardine

 

Whales, dolphins and porpoises all belong to a single group of marine mammals known as Cetaceans. A total of 81 different species are recognised by whale experts , but new ones are still being discovered.

There are two main types of Cetacean: Toothed Whales, or Odontocetes, which possess teeth and the Baleen Whales, or Mysicetes, which do not. There are only 11 species of Baleen Whales (Mysticetes), these include most of the larger whales, such as the Southern Right, the Bryde's and the Humpback Whale. Although they are enormous, they feed on tiny prey. Their vast jaws enable them to catch thousands of planctonic organisms, such as krill and copepods, which they filter from the water through the baleen plates hanging from the roofs of their mouths. They have two blow-holes, side by side. The majority of Cetaceans are Odontocetes (toothed whales) of which there are 70 species, these include the Killer Whale (Orca), Sperm Whales and all the dolphins and porpoises. They hunt and eat relatively large single prey, such as squid, octopus, fish and seabirds. They have a single blow-hole.

WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

BREACHING:

One of the most spectacular sights in nature is a breaching whale. Lifting their entire bodies out of the water in massive, graceful leaps. The splash can be heard from 1km away or more. Scientists are not yet sure why they do this, the behaviour may be related to the dislodging of parasites or maybe they are just expressing joyfulness and having fun. It is certainly a visual and audible form of communication and seems to be contagious as mothers and calves and other pairs often breach in unison.


 

LOBTAILING:

A whale will raise its tail flukes or pectoral fins and slap the water hard, producing loud claps. This may be done repeatedly and sends an audible and visual signal with a variety of meanings: a sign of alarm or annoyance, or a warning to boats, rival whales or sharks, or simply enjoying the sensation of the wind. They also use their pectoral fins for reassurance, or to caress one another during courtship.

 

Whale Tail


SPY HOPPING:

They lift their heads and part of their bodies out of the water vertically, enabling them to view the world above the water. They have well developed eyesight for beneath and above the surface of the water.


SAILING:

The flukes (tails) are raised vertically out of the water, using their tails as sails, allowing themselves to be blown along the water. This appears to be a form of play, because they will often swim back to the starting point and do it again. Perhaps they are cooling themselves in the breeze, feeding on organisms below the surface, or just showing off their tails.


BLOWING:

Thar she blows! One of the easiest ways of spotting a whale in the distance. It varies in height, shape and visibility among species. A hollow, whooshing sound is made when air is expelled from the lungs through the blowhole, accompanied by a highly visible spout of water vapour (a mix of seawater, mucous and condensation from the animals hot breath.


GRUNTING:

A loud, low frequency bellowing , belching sound that carries up to 2kms, underwater sounds have been detected up to hundreds of kilometers away. Most often heard at night and in breeding areas


"The 20th century has seen the depletion of many species, some may never recover" - Wyland


SOUTHERN RIGHT WHALE


EUBALAENA AUSTRALIS

The Southern Right Whales were so named by whalers because they were the 'right' whale to hunt. The fact that it was slow, docile and rich in oil and baleen, and floated when killed, resulted in this slow-moving leviathan becoming one of the most ruthlessly hunted of all whale species. The Northern and Southern Right came very close to extinction, but have been protected since 1937. The Northern Right is probably closer to extinction than any other large whale, estimated at less than 1, 000 and may never recover. Only the Southern Right is showing signs of recovery. There are an estimated 4, 000 - 6, 000 at present.


DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS


  • They have two blow-holes of equal size and have a wide V-shaped 'blow' as high as 5m;
  • Black, blue/grey or dark brown with occasional white markings, and have callosities (hard outgrowths of skin) that appear around it's head a useful form of identification;
  • Their bodies are stocky and fat, smoothly round without a dorsal fin;
  • Top speed of 17km/h, but usually move at a modest rate of between 0.5 and 4km/hr;
  • The maximum diving depth is about 300m;
  • Adults are approximately 14 - 18 meters long and weigh approximately 46, 000kg (30 - 80 tons) up to 800 times heavier than the average (75kg) man;
  • On average females have their first calves at 5 to 10 years and give birth every 3 to 4 years;
  • Calves are 5 - 6 meters long at birth and weigh 1.5 tons. Daily they consume approximately 100 litres of milk, and grow 2.8cm each day. Lactation lasts for 4 - 8 months;
  • Life span is unknown, but in excess of 50 years and up to 100 years.

The African Black Oystercatcher


The African Black oystercatcher is threatened bird species with a low number of only 5000 adults. Predominantly found in the Southern Cape. Beautiful Hermanus is lucky enough to have its first and only ever-recorded couple call it, they’re new home, and with that comes a nest Egg!


The two Oystercatchers that are known to mate for life and live roughly 18 years can be seen perched on a rocky nest on Piet se Klip, next to Bientang’s Cave. Pitch black with a red bill, legs and red ringed eyes they are easily spotted, taking turns hunting for mussels and nesting their single egg. Oystercatchers breed at the age of 4 and and lay 1-3 eggs in December to February. With them breeding at the height of the summer holiday season, they are most vulnerable to their supreme predators: curious humans, canines and some bird and animal life.


Much effort and painstaking guarding by Bientang’s cave along with signage from the municipality helps insure onlookers do not disturb this very shy specie, in the hopes of allowing these dwindling bird numbers to increase.


We ask you to please abide by the signage and not disturb these shy creatures. RESPECT AND PROTECT!


Dassies/Rock Rabits


Otherwise known as Hyraxes. These short eared rabbit like mammals resembling an over sized Guinea Pig, are in fact the closest relative to the Elephant, This can be seen by their stumpy Elephant like toes with hoof like nails. They spend most of the day sunbathing and foraging on grasses, herbage, leaves, fruit, insects, lizards and birds' eggs. You are almost guaranteed to see these cute little creatures at Bientang’s Cave. But please be warned these are wild animals and are known to be rather cheeky and protective of their young, so please keep a distance and refrain from feeding or touching these critters.


Jenny our local Genet


The spotted Genet is closely related to a mongoose, with a tail up to one and half its body size aiding in its, agility and balance. These are solitary, nocturnal creatures with an omnivorous diet. Our resident Genet Jenny is housed behind the kitchen and if lucky can be found exploring the cave on late evenings and early mornings.