Whale watching season in the state of Santa Catarina goes from July to November. That's when southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) leave Antarctic waters, where they spent the summer, to mate, give birth and nurse their young off the coast of this southern Brazil state. Sightings reach a peak between the second half of August and the first half of October.
The Santa Catarina coast has traversed a redeeming historical path from whaling hub to preservation model. The carcass of the last southern right whale killed in the area was brought to the shores of Imbituba in 1973. When whale hunting in Brazil was finally forbidden in 1987, there were no more whales in the area.
Thanks to environmentalist efforts, southern right whale population has been growing steadily. The old whaling station on Praia do Porto, Imbituba, was converted into the Whale Museum.
Whale Sighting Map
Projeto Baleia Franca, a non-governmental institute dedicated to the study and preservation of southern right whales since 1982, has a whale sighting map with records of whales spotted in Brazil's Southern Right Whale Environment Protection Area (APA Baleia Franca) during the season.
Mother and calves are a common sight in Santa Catarina. Southern right whales come close to the shore - sometimes just 100 feet away. Most calves, which weigh four to five tons at birth, spend their first year close to their mothers. Photographic monitoring of whales in the Santa Catarina area allows scientists to identify the ones that return in subsequent seasons.
Whale Sighting Recommendations:
Most travelers will come across souhern right whales during tours by accredited operators such as Vida Sol e Mar (www.vidasolemar.com.br), from Imbituba. But on occasion, unexpected sightings may occur from private boats and travelers must follow recommended safety procedures.
To ensure the success of southern right whale preservation in the Environment Protection Area as well as human safety, Projeto Baleia Franca recommends:
- Respect the areas closed to sighting on boats.
- Respect limits for approximation on boats - engines must be turned off or set in neutral at 100 meters (328 feet) or less.
- Never advance briskly towards whales.
- Never approach whales from behind.
- Never intercept a whale's path.
- Keep your distance from the whales, in a parallel course to theirs.
- Don't separate groups of whales, or mother whales from their calves.
- Don't turn boat engines back on if you can't see the whales clearly at the surface.
- Don't make unnecessary noises or throw objects in the water.
- Don't stay near the whales for more than 30 minutes.
- Never swim towards the whales.
Cities and Beaches Within APA Baleia Franca:
Some of Brazil's top cities and beaches are located on the coast within the limits of the Southern Right Whale Environment Protection Area, which goes from the southern tip of Santa Catarina Island, where Florianópolis is located, to Rincão, a beach south of Jaguaruna - a city known for its sand dunes and sand boarding.
On the Southern Right Whale Institute's whale sighing map (www.baleiafranca.org), you can locate a few of the area's highly touristic cities and beaches - from north to south:
- Ilha do Papagaio, a private island turned into a resort
- Garopaba, a famous surfing destination
- Praia do Rosa, a district of Imbituba, one of the most beautiful bays in the world
- Imbituba, ecotourism, water sport and whale watching mecca
- Laguna, a historic city, a great summer destination and home to one of the best Carnival celebrations in Brazil.
Southern Right Whale Watching Season Tours
Here are some reliable Brazilian companies which can take you up close to southern right whales:
- Brazil Ecojourneys offers sothern right whale watching based in Praia do Rosa, with transfers to Imbituba or Garopaba, plus a stop in Laguna to spot bottlenose dolphins as well.
- From August to November (except on holidays) Freeway has a four-day, Praia do Rosa-based whale watching package starting from São Paulo (flights to and from Florianópolis, transfers to Imbituba, Garopaba and Laguna, and insurance are included). The cost is R$1588 per person in a double studio apartment at Vida Sol e Mar (www.vidasolemar.com.br). E-mail, call (55-11-5088-0999) or fax (55-11-5574-1141) for more information.
- Vida Sol e Mar (www.vidasolemar.com.br) has its own travel agency, which offers whale watching tours.