Amongst the mayhem of the sharks, dolphins and gannets feeding on the millions of fish in South Africa’s annual Sardine Run, it’s easy to forget that humpback whales pass through these waters too and provide spectacular close encounters on the surface
I wrote a recently about diving South Africa’s Sardine Run in July 2010, the annual migration of millions of sardines up the eastern South African coastline that attracts thousands of predators. During the Sardine Run these waters are incredibly abundant, not least for the pods of humpback whales that can be regularly spotted from the boat. Over the four days we were out on the water, we saw humpbacks every day, sometimes travelling in groups of three and, one time, six of them together. They are not bothered by the boat at all – which is a slight concern because if a humpback came up underneath the boat we’d all be straight in the drink. But it does mean they come remarkably close. Below are a couple of video clips of humpback whales breaching shot on my little Canon IXUS 800.
The first clip shows how the humpbacks come out of nowhere – there’s a few seconds of staring at empty sea and then it suddenly appears
The second clip shows a much closer encounter – this humpback can’t have been more than 10 metres from the boat.
At one point we saw two humpback whales breach simultaneously – but unfortunately no one had their camera or camcorder ready… Besides humpbacks whales, Bryde’s whales also show up, and they want their share of the sardines. Jason Heller (who led the expedition I was on), got a spectacular photo of meeting a Bryde’s whale, and some amazing shots of the Run in general. (He wrote a great piece for Scuba Diving magazine about it too).
As a bonus video, here’s a ringside view of our daily morning speedboat launch – the boat has to head out through some formidable breakers to get to the open sea and avoid the “serious suckback” that can pull the boat back in and either ground it or capsize it. This one was fairly gentle – some of the others were a bit hairy. The light on the water and surrounding hills at that time of the morning is just incredible.