Coast KZN

30 May 2017

Welcoming of Whales: Africa’s first World Whale Conference to be hosted in SA

Kavitha Pillay (Traveller 24)


While whale watching has already begun in the Western Cape, with False Bay seeing the early arrival of whales, the east coast of SA has much to get excited about for this year’s whale season too.

The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) will hold the World Whale Conference for the first time ever on the African continent, and Durban is the host city for the first Welcoming of The Whales Festival in June.

Africa’s first World Whale Conference takes place from 24 June to 29 June, while Durban will host its first Welcoming of The Whales Festival on 24 June, with the theme “Towards Responsible Tourism for Cetaceans” in support of the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

The conference provides an opportunity for individuals and organisations involved with cetaceans – including whales, dolphins and porpoises – to join in, share knowledge, set new standards and learn through collaborating with others ranging from marine mammal experts, whale watching companies, NPO’s, the travel industry and other interested organisations.

According to WCA, the conference aims to set new whale watching and tourism guidelines and to establish objectives in protecting all cetaceans.

Whale-watching guidelines and whale heritage sites

A highlight of the conference will cover the progress on establishing whale heritage sites and trails, while issues of keeping animals in captivity, the establishment of whale sanctuaries and threats to cetaceans are amongst some of the proposed topics, says WCA.

“WCA is also assisting our Conference partner Sodurba Tourism Association to launch Durban’s first ever “Welcoming of The Whales Festival” which it is hoped will continue on as an annual event to celebrate the migration of Humpback Whales along the East Coast of Africa every year,” say the organisers.

Welcoming of the Whales Festival

Before the conference, WCA will co-host Durban’s very own annual whale festival, named Welcoming of the Whales Festival.

WCA will be supporting local tourism authority Sodurba Community Tourism Organisation (Durban South Tourism) in hosting the celebration on The Bluff at Anstey’s Beach on Saturday 24 June and Sunday 25 June.

Activities will include various educational, art and cultural events to celebrate the arrival of the whales on their migration route passing the KZN coastline.

Whale conference and heritage sites summit
The conference, on Monday 26 June to Thursday 29 June, will bring together national, regional and global stakeholders from whale conservation and welfare backgrounds, the whale watching industry, governmental organisations, and travel and tourism representatives, to share evidence and discuss strategies to ensure the protection of cetaceans in southern Africa and worldwide.

As part of the conference, WCA’s Whale Heritage Sites Summit will discuss and explore opportunities for the development of new sites in Africa and worldwide. Click here for more details on the agenda, speakers and registration.

Community event
On Saturday 24 June, the WCA will hold a community event in Durban to celebrate Durban as the ‘Gateway to the Humpback Whale Migration’. This event aims to increase public awareness of cetaceans off Durban’s coastline, and highlight the ways in which local people and communities can work together to protect and celebrate them.

Members of the public will be invited to participate in various activities, which may include whale identification, ghost-net bracelet making, children’s activities, talks by WCA experts, and a beach clean. At the centre of this event will be an art project.

Art Project: ‘Cetacean Creation’

Teaming with local company and creative team at Umcebo Design, the WCA will facilitate an educational art project in Durban, an initiative that will involve local schools in the build-up to the conference.

Umcebo Design is proposing to work with four schools to design, create and build a lighted cetacean sculpture – a ‘Cetacean Creation’.  The sculptures will be about 1.2 to 1.5m in size and will be made from recycled materials sourced from home and in beach clean-ups.

Following the workshops, lighting would be fitted to the pieces so that each becomes ornamental and functional.

WCA will also supply educational materials to each school to support the workshops, so that the children will learn more about cetaceans, including the threats they face and how they can protect them.

On the day of the community event, the school children will be invited to parade their creation at the event and a prize will be awarded to the school with the ‘best’ creation. Umcebo Design will also work on a fifth and final piece with conference delegates and local VIPs.