The Republic of Madagascar (formerly Malagasy) is an island nation of Africa located off the southeaster coast of the ‘Black Continent’ in the Indian Ocean. The main island of the country which is also called Madagascar is the fourth largest island (Area: 587041 square kilometres) in the world and is famous for its flora and fauna species majority of which are endemic to the country itself. Madagascar is one of the poorest country’s in the world. National capital is Antananarivo.
The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a baleen whale. One of the larger rorqual species found in various oceans and seas around the world. Humpback whale has a special body shape comprising very long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. Often found in state of animation, the adult humpbacks can be 12-16 metres long and weigh nearly 36,000 kilograms. Male humpbacks are often heard ‘singing’ also that generally lasts for 10-20 minutes. Humpbacks are also known to be migrants covering upto 25,000 kilometres annually. They eat only in summer and their food mainly comprises krill, shrimp-like planktonic crustaceans and small fish. When attempting to catch their prey, these whales might strike the water with their long fins or can attack them directly. They migrate to tropical or sub-tropical water to breed in winter. The humpbacks can live upto half a century.
Like all other large whale species, the humpbacks too were severely hit by the whaling. Its population declined drastically in the 1960s. Although their numbers have been restored to an extent but yet humpback whales are considered to be endangered species today.
The humpback whales often jump out of the water and make various other gestures like striking the fins pectoral. Humpback whales breathe through their lungs as like any other mammal They often surface out of the water for breathing purpose. When they surface, they expel the air coming from the lungs. The emission of air is followed by the appearance of the dorsal, squat fin which remains visible when the creature makes its round back to start for another dive. It is this particular gesture of round back preceding the diving that gives the humpback whales their name.
Humpbacks in Madagascar
each year, nearly 10 per cent of the humpback whales migrate to the waters of Madagascar. From June to September, they arrive from the Antarctics to the warm waters of the African nation to breed. The reproduction period gets over by the end of August and often the mother whales are seen swimming with their juniors. Since whales arrive at the Madagascar island area in winter, the tourists are always advised to wear warm clothing and waterproof garments. In case it is bright sunny day, carrying sun lotion is important.
Places of citing humpback whales
The humpbacks can be cited from various locations in Madagascar like Isle Sainte Marie, Nosy Be, Fort Dauphin, Antongil Bay and Tuléar, Anakao in the South and Cape Sainte Marie reserve are also good places to see the whales.
Isle Sainte Marie
This beautiful island lies on the north east of Madagascar and features lush green vegetation and white sandy beaches. However, it is the humpback whale migration that forms the major attraction of Isle Sainte Marie. In fact the people of Sainte Marie observe a festival called ‘Zañaharibe’ when the whales arrive in their waters as a homage to them. These creatures passing by in a gentle and peaceful manner can be seen from July to September. Boats and guides can also be hired to follow the swimming whales. The local boat operators are trained as per the guidelines laid down by the Wildlife Conservation Society ensuring that no harm is caused to the whales and their living habitat as well as preservation of the safety of the whale watchers.
Mating display around this time is also another fascinating treat for the whale-watchers. During this time the whales virtually surround the entire island and one can get excellent glimpse of the creatures travelling through the narrow channel that separates Isle Sainte Marie from the mainland Madagascar. The sight of the whales eating in groups is also a breathtaking one.
Isle Sainte Marie is mainly covered by orchids and lemur-covered mango and palm trees. The favourable coral reefs also offer magnificent diving and snorkeling opportunities.
The largest bay and located at the north of the east coast of the island of Madagascar, Antongil Bay is an important breeding ground for the humpback whale. A large number of whales assemble at this spot from July to September every year. Regular whale-watching excursions are arranged here.
Other attractions at Sainte Marie/Antongil Bay/Madagascar
- Band playing Malagasy music
- Delicious coconut chicken dishes
- See baobab trees at Andohahela National reserve
- Enjoy dhow sailing from Nosy Be
- Surfing Ambinanibe Ballade
- Waterfalls at Andringitra Mountain
- Ambohimanga Hills
Accommodation at Sainte Marie
- Lacana Hotel
- Princess Bora Lodge
- Masoandro lodge
- Hotel de Charma Vanivola
- Soanambo Hotel