Whale Watch Centre
Hermanus, South Africa
Reasearched & written by Gian. M L. Negra; With contributions from Eric Hoyt, Mark Carwardine, Alison Smith, Vanessa Williams, Kate O'Connell and Greenpeace
“The Ocean, mother of all life on the planet, is now threatened by one form of life, man.” - Wyland
Think of the planet Earth as a 46 year old …
The Earth is thought to be around 4 600 million years old, an almost inconceivable time-span. For the moment, think of it as someone in middle age, 46 years old.
This person is a late developer. Nothing at all is known about their first seven years and only sketchy information exists about the next 35 years. It is only at the age of 42 that the Earth began to flower. Dinosaurs and the great reptiles did not appear until a year ago, when this planet reached 45. Mammals arrived only eight months ago. In the middle of last week, human-like apes evolved into ape-like humans, and at the weekend the last ice age enveloped the Earth. Modern humans have been around for four hours. During the last hour we discovered agriculture. The industrial revolution began just a minute ago. During those sixty seconds of biological time, humans have made a rubbish dump out of Paradise. We have caused the extinction of many hundreds of species of animals, many of which have been here longer than us, and ransacked the planet for fuel. Now we stand, like brutish infants, gloating over the meteoric rise to ascendancy, poised on the brink of the final mass extinction and of effectively destroying this oasis of life in the solar system.
To see Hermanus on the map as the premier land based whale-watching destination in the world!
It is for this very reason that we have established Bientang's Whale Watch Centre, at “Bientang's Sea World”. It will serve as a tremendous tourism draw card for Hermanus, and the whole sub-region. This facility will hopefully serve to enlighten and educate all who visit the centre. If we are to save this planet for our future generations, the time to act is now!
We cannot waste any more time, we have been doing too much damage too fast. Let us all work together to make this research and educational facility a reality, to raise the level of awareness and consciousness of all those that visit Bientang's Whale Watch Centre.
The Whale Watch Centre at Bientang's Sea World is the first of its kind on the continent of Africa. Situated overlooking the only whale sanctuary to be found on the shores of the African continent.
We must take a stand for the conscious evolution of humanity towards a future that is equal to our full potential. “Alone we are mere drops, but together we are an Ocean.” Together we are a mighty force that can truly make a difference for the future of our blue planet.
- Giangi Negra
“We cannot solve the problems we have created with the same thinking that created them.” - Albert Einstein
The best whale-watching centres around the world enhance and help fulfill the multiple purposes associated with whale watching: entertainment, education, research, conservation, as well as all the commercial aspects for the local community.
A Whale Watch Centre provides a focal point for discovering more about whales and dolphins before or after a whale-watching trip, whether it be a boat based or a land based whale-watching excursion.
The centre serves to teach the public what they can expect to see and what it is that the whales are doing. With some preparation and understanding of what might been seen, the visitor gains more from his whale watching experience. Some visitors decide to go whale watching based on what they learn at the centre. Therefore the centre can in effect be the best “sales pitch” for whale watching.
After a whale-watching trip, the visitor wants to buy T-shirts, books and/or other souvenirs, enjoy a beer or glass of wine with a meal while they consider and consolidate their experience. Bientang's Cave Seafood Restaurant provides the perfect facilities for doing just that. In places where no such centres exist, visitors typically disperse after a boat or land based whale-watching experience feeling rather “empty”, particularly if they were not fortunate enough to see any whales.
Bientang's Cave Seafood Restaurant, adjoining the centre also provides warmth and shelter if the weather is poor and whale watching on the cliff top is impossible. When there is good food to eat and the best wines the Cape has to offer, it may be possible to keep visitors for an extra few hours or even a day, which means that more time and money will be spent in the Hermanus and the sub-region and the visitors are more likely to wait another day to go whale watching.
The very best whale watch centres actually attract people to the centre itself, providing a new draw card for Hermanus and gives people another reason for visiting the area again. At the same time, locals can also spend time at the centre learning more about whales and marine life in general and how they too can get involved, ultimately giving more support to the entire eco-tourism venture.
1. Ticket office and Information centre
The information/ticket office, research facility and gift shop is housed in the building that has recently been constructed on the way to the old harbour. The information office is where one can find out about various guided tours and also purchase tickets for boat based whale watching, shark cage dives, kayak trips etc. The research facility is for marine research, from whales to abalone. There is still so much that we need to learn about our fragile marine environment.
1.1 A notice board with whale and shark boat cruise times and costs, should be near the ticket office with free brochures offered. A notice board also reduces the number of questions asked.
1.2 Tickets can be sold for all the guided whale tours and kayak trips from the Old Harbour to the New Harbour. Accompanied by experienced guides, one can really experience being “in the company of whales.”
1.3 Tickets for the boat based whale-watching trips from Hermanus and from Gaansbaai as well as the Great White shark dives from Kleinbaai to Dyer Island will be available at the ticket office.
1.4 Guided land based whale-watching tours on foot along the cliff path, start from the centre.
2. Gift Shop
2.1 The gift shop is a part of the research facility on the way to the Old Harbour and will offer the visitor the opportunity of buying a T-shirt or other souvenir that will help promote whale watching in Hermanus and around the world.
2.2 Many people spend at least as much if not more on souvenirs as on the price of the whale-watching outing. Gifts such as the usual books, T-shirts, sweat-shirts, caps …etc. sell very well.
2.3 Souvenir T-shirts, sweatshirts and caps, printed on quality garments are among the best sellers of all the souvenirs.
2.4 Books in various languages and for all age groups about whales, dolphins and sharks sell very well.
2.5 All other items needed for good whale watching are to be sold here:
2.5.1. Photographic equipment: a range of films, disposable cameras.
2.5.2. Seasickness medication: several types.
2.5.3. Postcards showing whales breaching, spy hopping, lob tailing, etc. that the visitors may have missed photographing during their visit.
2.5.4. Paintings and posters of whales etc.
2.6 The gift shop is stocked with children's activity packs, colouring books, puzzles, badges, cuddly stuffed toys (dolphins and whales), as well as educational material on whales, dolphins, sharks and their marine environment.
3. Bientang's Cave Seafood Restaurant
The restaurant was founded in September 1991 and was named after Bientang, a Khoi Khoi women who lived in the cave about 100 years ago. Bientang's Cave is an Internationally renowned seafood restaurant situated in a historical cave that is at the nucleus of Bientang's Sea World. Bientang's Cave Restaurant has received two Merit awards, two Platinum awards and a Gold award from Diners Club for their wine list in the past.
Bientang's Cave Sea World was elected to receive the following International Awards:
The 29th, 30th and 31st International Awards for Tourist, Hotel and Catering Industry - Madrid 2004/2005/2006
The 24 th International Award for Food and Beverages - Paris 2004
The 16 th International Award for Business Leadership & Prestige – Brussels 2005
The 35 th International Award for Excellence in Products & Services – Madrid 2005
4. Research Component
The research facility on the way to Bientang's Cave from the Old Harbour and has an unobstructed view of the entire whale sanctuary in Walker Bay.
4.1. Office space for equipment and place for 1 to 3 researchers to type up reports, sort photographs etc. has been provided
4.2. Ideal equipment is available: table and chairs, computers, binoculars, etc.
(Although most researchers travel with laptops) Printer, photocopier, scanner, etc. are for general use of the facility and the restaurant.
4.3. Residence will be available, if possible nearby at reduced rates or free.
5. Marine Library
The library is equipped with a couple of benches and table, this is useful for researchers who can use the books and perhaps a few binders full of transparencies for photo identification, when at the centre. The library should have at least 30-40 books on whales, dolphins, marine mammals, oceanography and whaling. Books must be available for various age groups and levels of interest from basic to academic, as well as in various languages (English, Italian, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Afrikaans, etc.)
The Amphitheatre is large enough to accommodate at least a day's worth of whale watchers when they might meet on the eve of a whale-watching trip for lectures by knowledgeable guides or guest speakers. It can accommodate at least fifty people and is situated on the rocks, which forms a natural amphitheatre overlooking the whale sanctuary in Walker Bay in front of Bientang's Whale Watch Centre.
The museum is located at the Old Harbour, which is situated approximately 100m from Bientang's Whale Watch Centre. The variety of possible exhibits there is vast. Ideally, exhibits should change to some extent from year to year, so that repeat visitors would have new things to see, hear and learn from their experience.
A map might effectively show not only where the best land based whale watching sights around our coastline are but also where the Southern Right Whales go when they leave our coastline and head south to their feeding grounds. There are also archeological diggings at De Kelders across the bay. Where between 1969 and 1973, provided the earliest evidence of Khoi khoi strandloopers (beach-comber) in the Southwestern Cape.
It was Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882), author of “On the Origin of Species”. Who once said, it is …probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent….”
Darwin was not a man to write or speak lightly; when he came up with an idea, he based it on the most careful observations and research. Only in November 1924 when a fossilized skull with features intermediate between ape and human, was found at the Northern Lime Company near Taung in the Northern Cape. It was given the name Australopithecus africanus, the southern ape of Africa, which had lived between one and three million years ago – older than any similar hominid fossil ever found. More discoveries followed, helping to fill the gaps between Australopithecines and modern man, Homo sapiens sapiens, who first appeared about 100 000 years ago. This was the ancestor of the San, who flourished over a wide area of Southern Africa for thousands of years, their descendants' are still living in some of the more remote parts of the Kalahari.
8. Bientang's Sea World - Coastal Walkway
A coastal walkway at the high water mark reveals the wonder and beauty of this coastal paradise. Beginning at the “Old Harbour” where the old environmental education centre and Harbour Museum are found. The walkway is a stroll down to Bientang's Cave Seafood Restaurant and the Whale Watch Centre and then on to the tidal pool in front of the Marine Hotel. A complete eco-tourim experience that begins with a unforgettable meal at Bientang's Cave and then culminates with a magnificent walk along the pathway above the high water mark where one might be fortunate enough to see Southern Right whales lying just beyond the kelp very close to shore and truly be able to experience being in the company of whales and enjoy the beauty of Bientang's Sea World.
9. Lookout or viewing platform
The lookout or viewing point is situated on the cliff top above Bientang's Cave and the Whale Watch Centre with an unobstructed view of the entire whale sanctuary in Walker Bay. Hermanus is renown for having the best land based whale watching in the World, one can see Southern Right whales very close to shore during their annual migration to the breeding grounds along our coastline, during the months of May to December. This migration is known as a starvation migration because the Southern Right whales do not feed during this time as there is no food for them along our shores they feed on krill in Antarctica and come to our coastline to mate and to calve only. Southern Right, Humpback, Brydes whales and several species of dolphins can be see in Walker Bay at different times of the year. A mounted direction finder, for giving precise directions when cetaceans are spotted, is close by.
10. Outreach Program
Bringing the Whale Watch Centre to the community and South Africa at large.
The centre is to be used not only to attract and host whale-watching visitors from other parts of the world, but as a new facility for the community to use and enjoy. University students from all over South Africa can make use of the centre to further their studies in marine biology and zoology.
The centre can also be offered to the community for use to host local, national or even international meetings / workshops, particularly on the mission statement of the centre, i.e. whale and marine research, education and the promotion of conscious evolution.