By Crystal Chung @crystalkchung
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Videographer / director: Rainer Schimpf
Producer: Crystal Chung, Ellie Winstanley
Editor: Marcus Cooper
Diving tour operator Rainer Schimpf was fortunate enough to capture the underwater and aerial footage using a special filming permit following a successful expedition with the whales in 2015.
Schimpf and his team were able to document the whales in Hermanus, 200km east of Cape Town, and this year their aim was to see how the whales behaved.
Rainer, 49, said: “The aim of this year’s trip was to document new behaviour and new knowledge, which we obviously spread through the scientific world, and also to take beautiful images and footage.”
The massive whales are known to swim from the inactive regions of South Africa during the winter to give birth and to breed.
He said: “The special thing about encountering the whales is the sheer size of them.
“When you jump in the water and you approach the whales you are actually astonished by how big these animals are. They weigh around 80 tonnes, and they are almost like round bulky balloons underwater.
“It is immense to watch them engage and play around with each other, and to even witness breeding situations.”
Making sure not to disturb the majestic animals in their natural habitat, Rainer used a drone to capture the aerial footage of the whales interacting with each other and the divers.
He said: “Flying the drone was very special, and to be able to see the natural behaviour of the whales from a distance and film them without disturbing them at all from above is extremely rare.”
Southern right whales have very dark grey or black skin with occasional white patches on their belly and are easy to distinguish from others because of their broad back with no dorsal fin. Southern rights also have an enormous head which can be up to one quarter of their total body length.
Land-based whaling in Australia initially concentrated on southern rights, with the whales getting their name because they were once the ‘right’ whale to catch.
Whalers targeted them because they are slow-swimmers, they float when dead, and they provide large amounts of valuable products, particularly oil for illumination and lubrication.
There are now an estimated 12,000 southern rights in the Southern hemisphere, compared to the original population of 100,000. However, according to Wild About Whales, their numbers are growing at around 7% per annum.
Schimpf said: “We have been doing a lot of whale filming but this is the first time we experienced such great encounters with up to ten animals at once, with the animals swimming in parallel to the divers without any fear.
“It was absolutely amazing and we were very privileged to have this experience.”