In the late 14th century when the early Portuguese mariners
sailed along the cost of Namibia and entered the rich fishing
grounds that stretched from north of Cape Cross southwards, they
named the coast the 'Praia das Sardinhas'
(the Coast of the Fish). They arrived at a great bay that
offered good anchorage and shelter from the southerly winds, and
there they witnessed such an abundance of whales that they named
the place the 'Baia das Baleias' (The Bay of Whales). The whales
were able to enjoy their bay for another couple of hundred years
until ships had been developed for the purpose of deep-sea
whaling, for whale-oil was now a sort after commodity to light
the lamps of the northern world. The whaling fleets of the
Americans, British and French found favourable hunting and
profit in Namibian and other southern waters, The horrendous
slaughter of these most magnificent of G_d's creatures continued
until the mid-nineteen-sixties, by which time the vast oceans of
the world had nearly been Whaled-Out. Most nations of the world,
excluding Japan, respect the international agreement and have
ceased all whaling activities, and thankfully, recent years have
seen an increase in Whale sighting off the Walvis Bay.
A personal comment: As a young navy
officer I sighted my first school of Whales cruising their way
south in the deep Indian Ocean. It was an awesome sight and to
this day I have a mental photograph that I can clearly see as I
write this. Whenever in the Cape during the Whale season I make
my way to Hermanus to 'charge my batteries', and yes, I still
get exited when I see Whales. And if you haven't yet seen one, I
sure hope that one day you'll get the chance.
Southern Right Whale
Named so because of its slow surface
cruising speed of between 0,5 to 4.0 kilometers per hour which made
it easy to hunt from an open rowing boat. When startled they can
achieve short bursts of speed up to 10km/hr. They conveniently
floated after being killed. The oil and baleen
yield was high and it is estimated that between 1790 to 1825 over
12,000 of the mammals were killed bringing the species near to
Each whale is individually recognizable from the
unique callous patterns on its head.
Southern Right Whale Eubalaena australis
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae
The Southern Right Whale was, in 1935, the first
of the large whales to be declared a protected species. The
population is increasing at about 7% per annum. That means an almost
doubling every 10 years. In the year 2000 the estimated population was
between 2,500 to 3,000.
Adults grow 10.7 to 16.8 meters (35 - 55 feet) in length.
The largest have been measured at 18.3 meters and weighed in at
Swim speed 0,5 to 4 km/hr, but can achieve short bursts of
speed up to 17km/hr
Dive duration up to 40 minutes
Dive depth up to 300 meters
Spray blow height 3 meters
Lifespan is unknown but thought to be about 60 years
Are normally found between latitudes 20S to 40S
The Right Whale is the most endangered, despite being a
was probably the
best known of the Baleen Whales. They are found in the North
Atlantic Ocean, the North Pacific Ocean, and the Great Southern
Ocean. Named from the hump under the dorsal fin, Humpback Whales
arch their backs prior to diving. This is followed by a display of
tail flipping. Humpback Whales can be seen breaching and even
leaping out of the water. They grow to a length of 13 to 15 meters
with a weight of up to 36 tons. They have long narrow flippers and
unique under-tail markings that allows for individual
identification. The throat is pleated which is expanded when feeding
allowing the Humpback to take in and sieve huge amounts of prey,
eating about 1.4 tons of Krill and small fish
Humpback Whales migrate to the Polar Ice Packs
during the summer months where they eat and fatten-up, and then
return to the higher latitudes for the winter mating and calving
season. The round journey of between 5,000 to 8,000 km is the
longest migration of any mammal. During the breeding season the
males sing long and complex songs to the females. Only the males
have been recorded as 'singing'. Gestation period is 11 to 12 months
when a single calf will be birthed. The cow nurses her calf for
about one year. A new-born calf is between 3 - 4,5 meters in length
and weighs about 1 ton.
The Humpback Whale was virtually ignored by
whalers until the twentieth century when between 1904 and 1963 the
species was hunted to near extinction. In the southern hemisphere
alone over 200,000 were killed. It is estimated that the present
World population of Humpback Whales is 30,000 - 40,000. The Humpback
Whale is classified as an endangered species and is recovering
at a rate of about 10% per annum in southern waters. The population
is doubling about every 7 years.
Adult males grow 12.2 to 14.6 meters (40 - 48
feet) in length.
Adult females grow 13.7 to 15.2 meters (45-50
feet) and can weigh between 22.6 and 36.3 tons.
Swim speed of 15 to 16.5km/hr, but can exceed
20km/hr in short bursts.
Dive duration up to 30 minutes
Dive depth up to 210 meters
Spray blow height 4 meters
Lifespan thought to be about
Are found in all the world's oceans
Walvis Bay in the Whaling days of old
Early 20th cent. Whaler at Walvis Bay
Today - Whale cruising safely off Walvis Bay
The right hand side Whaling Gun complete with Harpoon stands outside of the Swakopmund Museum. This piece of equipment never fails to fascinate small boys.
When I explain the sad history of whaling, and try to give them an understanding
of how the whales must have felt when the harpoon plunged into them and the
barbs sprung out and dug into the flesh, they become very quite,
and ask as to why man had nearly killed all the whales. "Greed for money." is the simple
"Do people still kill whales?" they always ask. and I have to answer in the
affirmative. And, then I also become very quiet.
Of Interest: The Blue Whale is the largest creature that ever lived on
earth. The largest known of was 29 meters in length and weighed
over 174 tons. That is larger than any known of dinosaur.
The Blue Whale is also the loudest creature on earth. Their call
can reach 188 decibels. A modern jet engine only reaches 140 dB. Sperm Whales are known to dive to depths of up to
3000 meters. The deepest diving of any whale.
Acknowledgements and further reading: W5, W6, W7, W8, P1
22º57"S - 14º29"E