SNORKELLING WITH HUMPBACK WHALES | COFFEE BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
SNORKELLING WITH HUMPBACKS AT COFFEE BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
We were here in Coffee Bay with Roland Mauz and African Dive Adventures for the infamous Sardine Run. We hoped to dive on sardine bait balls with the promise of accompanying dolphins, sharks and diving gannets, but for the first day we saw mainly dolphins and humpback whales, or as Irene my wife had accidentally nicknamed them, ‘wholphins’. The whales were generally travelling quite fast. As in Queensland, Australia they are on a mission to places much further north and they usually don’t want to stop to interact with us in the water. This had certainly been our experience on day one at Coffee Bay. This was day two and we were out yet again in search of the elusive sardine bait balls. The clarity of the water was better and we were all more attuned into kitting up into our wetsuits and snorkelling gear to get into the water more efficiently.
The ‘eye in the sky’ was out spotting for us and indeed the ultra light plane found quite a few pods of dolphins, at times up to a hundred or more in a pod. One of these accompanied and completely surrounded some whales, and at the back of this ‘wholphin’ pod was a group of about seven dusky sharks following all the action. Some whales were having fun with breaches and tail slapping. We also saw diving and ‘rafting’ gannets, but still no sardine.
Just as a point of difference, in South Africa the safety of the animals and divers is at the discretion of the skipper of a boat. It is not the same as back home in Queensland where boats have to stop their engines 100m from a whale or groups of whales. Here you can approach as close as you feel is safe for all concerned and not to distress the whales. Thus our technique was to follow the whales and after a while when we thought they may be used to our engines, the boat and us, we would then speed ahead of them and drop in the water if they looked like they were about to engage us. Some times the whales changed direction and moved away from us, at other times they would dive deeper and disappear into the deep blue yonder.
Today something was different and we were surprised with the most amazing encounters and personal interactions with whales that we could EVER have imagined.
On a few occasions a whale or in particular a certain group of three engaged us. This time for whatever reason they seemed to want to play, and play they did. They acknowledged us, came over to us, eyeballed us and hung around for what seemed an age but was probably only about 5 or 10 mins, which was truly unbelievable.
Scuba gear was too cumbersome and problematic to use, so we all just dropped into the water to snorkel as close to the whales as possible. We were rewarded with them diving around us, surfacing and diving again, only to come back up somewhere else close to us. It was truly amazing.
One came so close I could have touched it on multiple occasions. We swam alongside them, one snorkeler so close to a pectoral fin, the whale could easily have flipped him up in the air if it had wanted to.
Then as quick as they had come to us, with one flick of a tail they had moved far faster than we snorkelers could keep up and they were gone.
Oh my god, we were all exhilarated and euphoric. How amazing was that. Our grins went from ear to ear. It took a long time back at the hotel to come down from our high. Even though we still hadn’t seen a sardine, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. We had been blessed with an experience beyond that. Looking eye to eye with one of the largest mammals on the earth is truly AWESOME and life affecting, something we will NEVER forget.
Check out a great video in our post: Whale Song From Africa
DCD would like to acknowledge one of our group of divers Sebastiao Carmo for some of these photos.
PS. More photos to come…