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Watching the Whales Go by in Hermanus

The wonderful thing about Fair Trade Tourism is that a concerned tourist can plan their whole South African holiday with accommodation and activities that live and breathe Fair Trade principles. I’m doing just this and found that, even at sea, I can still choose consciously. 

Fair Trade Tourism certified whale watching boat operator Southern Right Charters in Hermanus is a largely family affair, or at least it feels that way. It’s a tight-knit contingent of owners and staff who buy into the ethos of respect, not only for each other, but for the marine life they are privileged to encounter daily.

The Cape whale watching season is only from July to November, so I wondered what they do and how they earn a living for the rest of the year. When asked, General and Operations Manager Robin Appleby shrugged and laughed saying: “Ah well, that’s the business we’re in. We do some summer charters, but for several months we fork out money on maintenance and upgrades but don’t earn anything!”

Robin mentions several times how she has to appease the accountant, but Southern Right Charters has been in business since 1999, run a smart 70-seater purpose-built catamaran named “Miroshca” and have a great team of staff, many of whom have been there at least 10 years – so they must be doing something right!

They are also doing right by the whales through collaboration with SA Shark Conservancy (SASC) and their marine ecology research programmes. Southern Right Charters share their sighting logs, which detail location and date and the behaviour of the most common marine mammals they encounter – southern right, humpback and Bryde’s whales – plus several species of dolphins. They also take out SASC researchers who create photo IDs for as many animals as they can for long-term research.

I wondered what happens when the five-year whale watching permit comes up for renewal. Is it a given that Southern Right Charters would have their permit renewed? “Unfortunately not,” sighed Robin. “We create all the infrastructure, comply with all regulations, but nothing’s guaranteed.” It’s highly likely they will continue as whale watching operators, but you never know when power and politics can suddenly change the status quo!

For now, along with everyone else on board, I am quite simply thrilled at the close encounters with the gentle giants of the sea, who come to Walker Bay every year to mate and calve. Some dolphins also make an appearance, as well as a cluster of penguins and several thousand cormorants.

Robin knows that seeing whales is a bucket list accomplishment for many people, but she hopes her guests leave with a greater understanding of the ocean and its inhabitants in the most southerly seas of Africa. “We are about creating a little bit more love for the ocean,” smiles Robin.

For more information on Southern Right Charters and other Fair Trade Tourism establishments, visit www.fairtrade.travel

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