Humpback whale migration approaches South Africa’s shores

Posted on 3 June 2021 By David Henning

The Northern migration of humpback whales usually reaches the African continent at Knysna, and this is the place where celebrations for their arrival begin this year.

Each year during June and July, thousands of Humpback whales travel up the coast to breed in warmer waters. Image by Ken Findlay

Threats to Whales 

These whales were brought back from the brink of extinction in the 1960s after being nearly wiped out by the whaling industry and are the first of the great whales to reach their pre-exploitation numbers. This does not mean that their battle is over; climate change, plastic pollution, and abandoned fishing debris all present new threats to these animals.

This year, there will be discussions held about the threats whales face such as getting entangled in fishing gear and the effects of plastic pollution. The video below further elaborates on the adverse effects of plastic pollution on marine life.


Humpback whales have recorded the longest migration of any mammal, with their feeding grounds around 60 degrees South. The journey to Algoa Bay is around 4500 km, and those that travel to Kenya have another 6500 km to go. They migrate because the water of their feeding grounds is too cold to calve, hence migrating to our warmer waters. At the same time, males need to mate with receptive females. Newborn calves are often encountered in Algoa Bay and it is estimated that up to 7000 of them pass our coastline en route to the feeding grounds off East Africa.

A breaching humpback whale.


Humpbacks are credited as the most acrobatic of our whales, often breaching multiple times in a row. If you want to participate in the celebrations of the arrival of these magnificent animals to our shores, there are events at coastal towns along the coast.

The beginning of festivities kicks off on Saturday, 5 June and there will be a family awareness outing at 10am for the family at Brenton on Sea Beach, Knysna. In Qqeberha, festivities will take place at the Pine Lodge Conference Centre and Resort. This will entail live music, food and market stalls and organised walks and tours to Cape Recife Lighthouse.

With the cancellation of the Hermanus Whale festival this year, why not try one of the other events to celebrate their arrival with events along South Africa’s coastline? To find out more information about the nearest festivity to you, view the festivals page here.


Picture: Whit Welles

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