“The trip of a lifetime”: from one Whale Heritage Area to another

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We always love to hear about people’s unique experiences visiting Whale Heritage Areas, so we were especially delighted when a founding member of one Whale Heritage Area travelled across the world to another!

Donna Kalez, co-founder of the Dana Point Whale Heritage Area steering committee, visited Plettenberg Bay while on holiday in March. Donna and her husband had already intended to make the journey from California to South Africa to visit a friend who lives in Plettenberg Bay and were excited to learn of the bay’s designation in late 2023.

Donna told us: “We were planning our visit and that just sealed the deal – how on earth could my dear friend’s home also be named a Whale Heritage Area, clear across the world? Such an amazing coincidence! Plett, as the locals call it, has always been explained to me as a place very similar in nature to Dana Point. They have year-round dolphin watching, they have calm seas and weather very similar to Dana Point.”

Before travelling to Plettenberg Bay, Donna and her husband stayed in Cape Town for three days, where they went on a sunset cruise and were lucky enough to see two Southern right whales! These majestic whales are thought to migrate northwards along the South African coastline before returning to Plettenberg Bay in September.

During their six days on vacation in Plett, Donna noticed the local community’s unmistakable pride in their status as a whale-friendly destination, with the Whale Heritage Area logo on display at the lookout point and throughout the town itself.

“It has inspired me to do more to elevate Dana Point as a Whale Heritage Area. The people in the community seemed very pleased that I knew that they were a Whale Heritage Area and I loved seeing the pride!”

– Donna Kalez

As part of their visit, Donna and her husband went on a 90-minute cruise with Ocean Blue Adventures, a local company that works with Qolweni Community Development Trust to deliver ecotours with a focus on education and research. Donna is well-versed in responsible whale and dolphin watching practices, as the COO of WCA Partner Dana Wharf Whale Watching, so she was able to appreciate Blue Ocean’s emphasis on animal welfare and marine conservation, praising their tour captain as “magnificent”.

Even with a lifetime of whale and dolphin watching experience, Donna still had a few marine mammals left on her bucket list to see, one being the Indian Ocean humpback dolphin. The area off the Southern African coastline is one of the few places in the world that this endangered species can be encountered. We can only imagine how excited Donna and the other tour guests must have been when they were able to see seven humpback dolphins, within just 15 minutes of their boat leaving the beach! Donna described the experience as “truly an amazing, inspiring sighting”.

After this magical encounter, the tour continued down the coast to see two pods of bottlenose dolphins, counting around 11 individuals. Donna observed that “what makes it so unique is the dolphins are in the surf line, so the dolphin watching is very safe but also a thrilling ride, as you go up and down over the waves keeping a safe distance from shore and the animals.”

Finally, the tour boat travelled a short distance to the Robberg Nature Reserve, home to thousands of Cape fur seals. The tour guests enjoyed watching the seal colony and took many photos, with Donna adding that she would “highly recommend hiking this reserve for stunning views of the coastline.”

“We were so inspired and lucky to see two marine mammals on my bucket list, both the Southern right whale and the humpback dolphin, on my trip to South Africa and Plettenberg Bay Whale Heritage Area. It was indeed the trip of a lifetime to visit, we were not disappointed.”

– Donna Kalez

We couldn’t be happier to hear that Donna had such a wonderful experience visiting another Whale Heritage Area! You can find out more about our Whale Heritage Areas programme here, including which destinations have been designated, the benefits for local communities, and how to apply.

All photos courtesy of Donna Kalez and her husband.

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