Over the past month, 16 coastal towns South Africa and Mozambique have held festivals to announce the arrival of humpback whales journeying north along the migration route from Antarctica to the warmer waters of Mozambique. This program of festival events has been supported by the World Cetacean Alliance; an international partnership of over 90 businesses, Non-Profit organisations and private members, along with SEA Whales, a loose collaboration of interests along the South East African migration route.
The purpose of these festivals is to alert the world to one of nature’s greatest yet little known wonders – the annual migration of thousands of whales to their breeding grounds where they mate and give birth. Also referred to as the ‘humpback highway’, it’s the longest migration of any mammals on the planet
Next stop on the festival calendar is Ilha the Mozambique, a key location where the majority of pregnant whales choose to stop and give birth. This festival which is scheduled for July 27 & 28 is being organised by Ilha Blue and will boast a life size bamboo whale, information panels, boards and banners, theatre, music, film, prizes and official presentations. As with the other festival there will be a focus on education; with special events organised for pre-school right through to university students, and tourism businesses; with information on responsible whale watching, science and industry accreditation.
As a tourism business, what do you need to know?
- Whale Watching is big business with over 13 million people participating globally each year
- Most whale watching happens in North America (48%).
- Fastest growing whale watching destination currently is Iceland
- Whale watching continues to show strong growth against overall tourism: Icelandic whale watching for example averaged 20% annual growth per year.
- Ilha de Mozambique has massive tourism potential, first as a Unesco World Heritage site and now as a globally significant Whale Watching destination
- Globally there are trends towards product differentiation, with various whale watching hotspots developing their own unique selling points – in Northern Mozambique watching from traditional sailing dhows is what sets it apart
- With a growth in popularity there will be demands for improved educational content, responsible practice and a focus on science and sustainability.
- There is no room for ‘Cowboy operations’. Just like any wildlife activity, whale watch tourism requires professionalism and industry accreditation
- For obvious reasons safety is paramount
- Each adult whale can be 18m long and weigh up to 36 tonnes, the equivalent of 6 elephants
- Females are bigger than males
- Humpback Whales migrate up to 10,000klm each year
- They feed in krill rich Antarctic waters and migrate to the warmer waters off East Africa to give birth
- Females mate and become pregnant in East Africa, return to Antarctica for the summer and then journey back along the coast of South Africa to give birth 12 months later back in East Africa
- Ilha De Mozambique appears to be the main birthing site for this humpback population
- Some whales continue as far north as Kenya, others cross over to Madagascar
- Humpback whale populations are recovering from years of hunting and now there are as many as before hunting began. This is a fantastic conservation success story
- Whale watching provides a new model for use of natural resources, it’s an industry that relies on the seas in a non-extractive way
- From a conservation perspective Humpback whales are the Pandas of the sea. Charismatic, intelligent and spectacular in their behaviour, for many people they are the gateway to understanding and appreciating the marine environment on which we all rely.