Today I want to talk about Whales – no, not the obscure country attached to the side of England, but the gigantic sea creatures which come to Reunion each year on their migration route. We are very lucky here in Reunion with the magnificent landscapes, the immense mountain ranges and the spectacular volcano, but it is not just on land that we are treated to such delights. There is also the deep blue sea, and although we have had some unfortunate headlines with the sharks recently, the whales have started arriving to lighten the mood.
Each year from June to October, in our cooler winter season, around 4,000 whales migrate North from Antarctica, some following the South African coastline towards Mozambique and some preferring to come all the way over here. Once here in Reunion, some breed and some give birth to their young, before preparing to make the journey South, back to their feeding grounds.
We can see them all around the island but they usually spend their time in the West and the North. They are even visible from the coastline – I have seen them as far south as Manapany & Grand Anse and as far north as Cap de la Houssaye, but the best way to see them is on a boat trip out on open waters. We usually take boats out of St Gilles and spend an afternoon searching the horizon for splashes, or carefully looking for a dorsal fin to appear, as a spray of water emerges from the whale when it comes up for air.
The most common species here in Reunion is the humpback whale, recognisable with its lumpy and textured skin. Once you are out on the water and a whale appears next to your boat, it’s at that moment that you really start to understand the size and power of these fantastic mammals. You need to respect the whales and the rules however – don’t chase them or their calves around the water as this can disturb them, but sometimes they will appear close to your boat voluntarily, come up to breathe, and then disappear back under the water, showing us a quick view of their white tails as they wave goodbye.
The real spectacle however, is when you see the whales jump, although this is maybe safer viewed from the shore! I will never forget the day I was enjoying a sunset cocktail at L’Ermitage when a whale decided to put on a show for us in front of the bar, jumping continuously for around 15 minutes as the sun set behind.
Now that the season has begun, I will soon be booking my boat trips from St Gilles, and I often take the longer, more coastal road around the island when driving, in the hope that I catch a glimpse of a whale in the water – whilst keeping an eye on the road of course!
landscapes – paysages
delights – plaisirs
headlines – la une des journaux
lighten the mood – détendre l’atmosphère
all the way – tout le chemin
breed – se reproduire
feeding grounds – zones d’alimentation
splashes – éclaboussures
dorsal fin – nageoire dorsale
humpback whale – baleine à bosse
lumpy – bosselé
calves – baleineaux
shore – rivage
put on a show – faire une spectacle
catch a glimpse – apercevoir