Madagascar’s Humpback whales – when, where and how to see them

Maybe it's because Madagascar is such a cornucopia of natural wonders that so little has been made of the annual arrival of the Humpback Whales which is only now starting to gain attention.

Whale-watching is a global phenomenon with hotspots found from Alaska to Tahiti. Surprisingly perhaps, for an island so synonymous with endemism, Madagascar is right up there among the best of them.

Arguably the most rewarding of all the whales to watch is the Humpback, with their famously photogenic habit of breaching (propelling two-thirds or more of their body out of the sea and splashing down on their backs) and raising their enormous fluked tails out of the water when diving. The fact that they are approachable and curious as well as active and entertaining only adds to their appeal.

Humpback Whales are found in seas and oceans around the world and their numbers have been gradually recovering since the 1966 global ban on whaling came in to force, current estimates stand around 80,000 individuals.  Yet despite these numbers and their massive range (undertaking the longest migrations of any mammal) finding them is not necessarily straightforward - because although they are big (around 36 tonnes and over fifty-foot long) the oceans are vast.

Happily however, Humpbacks migrate to tropical waters to calve and every year from late June to September females gather to give birth to their calves in waters surrounding Madagascar - particularly in the shallow channel between the mainland and Île Saine Mairie running north in to Antogil Bay by the Masoala Peninsular.

For anyone considering visiting Madagascar it is definitely worth considering doing so in the northern summer (June to September) months and including some time on the east coast of the island. Watching the Humpbacks can be done in relative luxury on Masoala - flying in and out of Tana - and for those looking for adventure the incomparable drive up the Route National 5 will give ample opportunity to spot these behemoths cruising up this most spectacular of coastlines. 

Posted by: Rod Tether

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