WHALES ON THE NET
It's Such A Wonderful Animal To Watch
By Sivuyile Mangxamba
The sleepy coastal town of Hermanus bursts out of its seams every year as tens of thousands of tourists flock to one of the world's best land-based whale watching spots.
The 13th whale festival in Hermanus, 100 kilometres southeast of Cape Town, started on Thursday and ended on Sunday, attracting more than 140 000 visitors, organiser Glyns van Rooyen said.
The sea mammoths have always come to this charming town, locked between a half-ring mountain reserve and the Indian ocean in Walker Bay, which is near the southernmost tip of Africa and at the heart of some of the best shore-based whale watching opportunities in the world.
The southern right whales are the stars of the annual festival which sees the cliff tops around the bay packed with spectators as the creatures cavort and leap within easy view.
Between June and December, before leaving for the Antartic, the southern right whales come to mate and a year later to calf.
Robert and Micheline Labeye of Belgium struggle to explain their addiction to whale watching, but they have visited South Africa five times and always come to Hermanus - just to see whales.
The whales come as near to the land as 50 metres - and as many as 70 whales were counted in the bay in one day this year.
Van Rooyen said the festival had transformed Hermanus, once just a fishing town, into a major player in the tourism industry.
It slowly transformed from fishing village into retirement haven, then it became a holiday town, and nowadays it explodes once a year into the whale watching capital of South Africa.
Wolfgang Rolf Schirmer, a German who lived in Namibia before moving to Hermanus 15 years ago, claims he was the first person to introduce whale postcards to this town.
He was never disappointed by his product as many tourists want to leave town with a souvenir of a whale.
Now half of the business in town is trying to curve a claim to whales.
It can be anything from a restaurant claiming best whale viewing spot in town, to souvenir shops selling metal earrings resembling the tale of a whale.
Other than the southern right whale, the bryde whale stays here all year round, but it is a shy one and difficult to spot as it does not show off like its cousin.
Then there is the humpback whale that migrates past Hermunus and cannot be seen from the land - only the serious whale watcher who goes on boat rides gets to see this one.
Many whale watchers describe their affection for whales in simple words - its "amazing to watch", "it appears to perform for us", "I can watch whales every day".
Now the challenge for Hermanus, says Tasneem Essop, provincial minister for environment and development planning, is to ensure that "everyone benefits from the festival".
26 September, 2004
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