Hermanus in the heart of the Cape Whale Coast of South AfricaContact Us

  • Sunday, 30 July 2017
  • linda

Your whale watching experience can be so much better if you follow these clues on what to look out for.

hidden shoot with a lens

Your eyes are glued to this vast piece of ocean. The camera pointed not to miss the action of this leviathan you know must be there somewhere under the water. Now it is a waiting game. And then just as you lowered your lens, the whale breaks the surface! In plain sight. You missed it! Had you known what to look for, it could have been the perfect holiday memory!

 Follow the whale’s footprints

hidden footprint

A whale's 'footprint' is the flat, smooth circle it leaves on the surface of the water when it flicks its tail or fluke with a downward stroke. Whalers of old were able to follow a whale when it stayed close to the surface of the water as it moved along. Even if the whale did not surface they could follow the footprints that were sometimes visible in a line showing the direction in which the whale was travelling, before they slowly disappeared.

In his popular 2008 nonfiction book The Whale, Philip Hoare refers to the “slick of flat water” with an Iñupiaq term—qala, translated as “the path of the unseen whale.”

According to ancient belief, the qala (pronounced similarly to “Carla”) is "almost a form of communication" between whale and man. It is even more informative to an Iñupiaq hunter than a paw print on the ground. It reveals the precise location of a whale’s last surface movement. And it remains visible longer than the spray from a blowhole. Hunting a whale is chasing the qala. From the qala, a hunter could also determine the size of the whale; the larger the whale and the deeper the dive, the larger the surface print.

How does a whale leave a footprint?

When a whale dives, the up-thrust of its horizontal tail drives water toward the surface. This motion of their tail under the water create the footprint. On the surface, this can be seen as a round, calm area of flat water, known as a whale's footprint.

 Thar she blows!

Hidden spouts

Whales are mammals that must surface to breathe. Upon surfacing, they forcefully expel air through their blowholes. The blast of old warm air heated by the lungs is forcefully expelled out -almost 90% thereof.  The spout moisture is often mistaken for being sea water but this moist, warm air hits that the outside air becomes a vapour. It is this vapour that you see when the whale spouts, each whale in a different way.

The different spouts are the perfect way to identify the type of whale responsible for it. Southern Right Whales have a V-shaped spout because of its two blow holes being slightly apart. Humpback whales have a bushy spout that goes up to 12 feet high and fin whales have a long, thin spout that goes up to 18 feet in the air!

 Whales can hold their breath for 7-30 minutes - sperm whales for up 2 hours!  They usually take about 1-2 breaths per minute while travelling at the surface, each breath less than 1/2 a second, giving a good indication of the waiting period for the trepid whale watchers! However, keep in mind that whales move around and they may not surface at the exact same place you saw them going down!  Better to keep looking wide.

hidden two blowholes

How do they do it?

Whales are mammals who breathe air into their lungs.

The blowhole is to the whale what nostrils are to a human being. It is an integral part of the way that whales breathe. The blowhole is situated on top of the head of the cetaceans, and works like a valve; that is, it can be sealed shut as the animal dives beneath the surface of the water and opened when it needs to expel air and take a fresh breath out of the water.

Now that you have a better idea of what to look for, no whale will escape your camera! Have a whale of a time!

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