There’s a lot to love about Plettenberg Bay as a favourite holiday destination, but for nature lovers and marine enthusiasts, it doesn’t get better.

This time of the year is particularly special for our Kurland guests who stay with us to make the most of the Garden Route’s popular whale watching season. What many of our guests don’t realise, however, is that whale watching and caring for our whales takes place all year round.  That’s why we connected with Plett-based marine mammal biologist, Dr Gwenith (Gwen) Penry, to understand just how precious Plett’s natural resources are and how we can best protect them through sustainable, responsible tourism…

Plett is home to six whale and dolphin species (and the Cape fur seal)

Gwen’s research over the past 20 years has been focused on the South African Bryde’s whale, but she has also researched several species in different countries around the world. She explains that there are over 100 species of whales and dolphins globally. In the Southern African region alone, including all the way down to the Prince Edward islands, there are 54 species of whales and dolphins, six of which can be regularly found in Plett.

Plett is well-known for its migratory whale sightings, namely the Southern Right whales and Humpback whales. The Southern Rights come to Plett’s coastline to socialise and breed. They feed their calves for 3-4 months before they start to migrate back south to their natural feeding grounds.

The Humpback whales, on the other hand, migrate past Plett’s coastline, swimming up to their breeding grounds around Mozambique and Madagascar. They can often be spotted in Plett, resting with their calves, while they’re migrating.

And then we have Gwen’s favourite whales, the Bryde’s whales, who live in Plett’s waters all year around.  “They’re fast-moving, and quite shy, so one doesn’t often see them showing off like the Humpbacks,” Gwen explains. “They’re most visible from March to May when they’re feeding on sardines and anchovies.”

Dolphins are equally special and frequently spotted from the beach in Platt. The most common are the beautiful Bottlenose dolphins, often seen in big groups surfing the waves and leaping out of the water. You also find Humpback dolphins in Plett all year round. They are endangered, however, and because they swim close to shore in shallow waters, they’re exposed to many threats. Plett is a haven for them, but they’re rare and spotting them in small groups of 4-8 remains a very special sighting.

Last but not least are the Common dolphins. You need to be on a boat to see them, as they generally swim further out at sea. They’re often seen in groups of over a hundred during well-known sardine run (which takes place annually between April and July).

Photo by Dr Gwen Penry

Promoting responsible tourism

Forty years ago, whaling was the biggest threat to whales. Today, however, the threats include whales accidentally being struck by ships, getting entangled in fishing nets, pollution, plastic waste, and ocean noise introduced by humans (through oil and gas exploration, deep sea mining, and shipping noise), Gwen explains.

In order to protect the beautiful whale species that draw hundreds of visitors to Plett every year, we need to support and raise awareness around responsible tourism. In Plett there are only two operators with whale watching permits, namely Ocean Safaris and Ocean Blue Adventures. Not only do they practise what they preach through not using any plastic bottles on board and only using clean engines in their boats, they also keep a respectful distance from the whales to minimise disturbance.

“Only permitted operators can approach the whales within a 50m radius,” Gwen explains. “Anyone else without a permit needs to remain 300m. As nature enthusiasts, ambassadors, and tourists, it’s important that we do everything we can to encourage friends and visitors to only use permitted companies and to be happy seeing whales from the regulated distance. That’s one of the most important ways that we can support the recovery of the whale environment.”

If you want to see dolphins and whales without going out onto a boat, here are Gwen’s top 5 local spots:

  1. Waves carpark (near Enricos Restaurant in Keurboom)
  2. Lookout Restaurant (and the whale tail view site just above it)
  3. Robberg Peninsula (there’s a small fee but it give you access to picturesque picnic sites)
  4. Ski Boat Club (at the central beach where the boats launch)
  5. Robberg 5 beach (a blue flag beach with toilet facilities)

How individuals like you can make an impact

Through her research and daily work in marine conservation, Gwen understands all too well how dire the situation is for our oceans and the creatures that inhabit them. The opportunity to effect positive change and make a difference lies with all us, however.

Here are 5 things Gwen says we can all do immediately to make an impact:

  1. Stop using single-use plastic (use a glass water bottle that you can refill)
  2. Only eat sustainable seafood (get the SASSI app on your phone)
  3. Buy local (this supports small businesses and reduces your carbon footprint)
  4. Only choose certified, ethical, responsible and permitted operators for marine activities like whale watching, dolphin spotting, and snorkelling with seals
  5. If you go fishing, make sure to discard of fishing line appropriately (fishing line is a huge hazard for sea life and birds)

Did you know? Plett is well-known all around the world for its precious marine biodiversity, bird species and nature reserves:

  • Plettenberg Bay is one of five of South Africa’s first international Hope Spots – a global network of identified marine areas, promoted and driven by the global initiative, Mission Blue.
  • Plett has also been declared an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBBA). It’s home to one of the largest kelp gull breeding areas and an estimated 10% of the Cape Cormorants global population.
  • The Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area is the oldest marine protected area in Africa (first proclaimed in 1964).
  • The Keurbooms River Nature Reserve, an exquisite 740-hectare reserve located just outside Plettenberg Bay, is a World Heritage Site.
  • And lastly, Plett has recently been awarded Whale Heritage Area status by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA).

If you’re looking to book a holiday in Plett and you want the benefit of luxury country living and local knowledge, consider making Kurland Estate your home base. Visit Home – Kurland.

Banner image by Barry Skinstad