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Whales and Walvis Bay Humback Whale Southern Right Whale


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 extinction.


Each whale is individually recognizable from the unique callous patterns on its head.


Southern Right Wheale Eubalaena australis

Southern Right Whale Eubalaena australis

Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeanglie

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 106,5 tons.

  • 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 protected species


Humpback Whale

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 50 years

  • Are found in all the world's oceans


Walvis Bay in the whaling days of old

Walvis Bay in the Whaling days of old

Early 20th cent. Whaler at Walvis Bay

Today-whale cruising safely off walvis bay

Today - Whale cruising safely off Walvis Bay


Whale Hunting Industrial Style.

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 answer.

"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.

Whaling Gun


Acknowledgements and further reading: W5, W6, W7, W8, P1


Erongo Region

2257"S - 1429"E

Population: 65.000


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