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Slow start to 2020 whale season

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The Hermanus Whale Crier – who is tasked to inform people with his bamboo horn when he spots a whale in Walker Bay – reported for duty on 1 June and has since spotted a school of dolphins and four Bryde’s whales close to Gearings Point.

Bravo Sobazile, however, says there have not been many whale watchers at what he calls “a slow start” to the southern right whale season. “This weekend we had a couple of visitors who came whale-watching,” says Sobazile.

While locals may enjoy the ocean wildlife from the Cliff Path, boat-based whale watching operators and shark cage diving operators are still stranded under lockdown Level 3 regulations.

Kim Maclean from Sharklady Adventures says the boat-based whale watching and shark cage-diving industries are still waiting for the green light and that government must still send some of the protocols to them.

“Sharklady Adventures as well as most other shark cage diving operators have set protocols in place that adhere to the highest standard of safety and precautions. It is understood that the tourism council have set out strict protocols for the tourism industry. We now need to push hard to at least be able to operate, even on a smaller scale for the local market,” says Maclean.

She explains that the industry has been hit hard over the last three years with the drought, sudden disappearance of sharks, very bad winter as well as summer weather restricting seafaring days, the local protests and the economy. “Covid 19 has just been the cherry on top of a melting ice cream. Staff who have been with Sharklady for many years now have one more month of UIF and then the tap runs dry. It’s going to be difficult to try and keep the doors open and be ready for when tourism starts again. I am praying that our industry will survive, as it is a huge attraction to our Overberg area,” she adds.

Wilfred Chivell, CEO of Marine Dynamics and founder of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust says that the tourism industry is currently in a rough patch.

“Whilst we are able to continue with some of our conservation work, in particular the continuous care of the penguins at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary, our tourism enterprise has been hard hit. Within the tourism industry there is an estimated 50% of people that have been retrenched and we have had to drastically reduce our team at this stage,” says Chivell.

Chivell says that even if they can continue operations at Level 2, without open borders for international business, the tourism industry will continue to suffer.

“We are sensitive to the impact of the coronavirus, but the resulting poverty for many will be of significant concern as time wears on. Shark cage diving is also the only monitoring of white sharks in South Africa and whilst we are not on sea, we have limited to no knowledge of their current movement patterns. We would hope that during whale season we will be able to take out South Africans to experience this incredible marine experience.”

Marx Mohr from Neptune Divers says that they are allowed to teach scuba classes under Level 3. “We are also allowed to take people scuba diving as students. However, 99,9% of our scuba diving clients are international guests or students travelling to South Africa to study. We are not permitted to do eco or sunset cruises yet, with no indication of when we will be able to start up again. For now we are left doing maintenance,” says Mohr.

“We are, however, running specials for locals that want to learn recreational scuba diving and hope this will carry us through this time.”

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