Between June and September the seas of eastern Madagascar, and particularly the Baie d’Antongil, are witness to an annual invasion of cavorting humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Leaving their summer feeding grounds in the krill-rich waters of Antarctica, they stream north to the sheltered shallows of Antongil Bay and the west coast of Île Ste Marie where they calve and mate.
Always one of the most entertaining of the baleen whales (toothless filter feeders), with their outlandishly long flippers, humpbacks – which can grow to 15m in length and weigh more than 30 tonnes – spend much of their time in this area simply enjoying themselves – slapping their fins, breaching and singing to each other as they welcome the newborns. After the males have competed for their selected females with bouts of mock fighting and wave-making, the couples pair up to mate. The babies, which suckle their mothers like other mammals, are born eleven months after conception.
The western coast of Île Sainte Marie is one of the best places in the world for shore-based whale-watching, as humpbacks of all sizes can often be seen as little as 100m from the beach, heading north in the early part of the season and back south again later on. Many hotels also offer boat trips to watch the whales and usually follow the internationally observed conventions of whale-watching, designed to keep humans safe and cetaceans safe from harassment. Typical trips last a couple of hours and cost 60,000ar. In the north, La Crique and Atafana are recommended bases (both very close to the Madagascar mainland) and in the south, Libertalia, Princesse Bora and Sambaftra Beach Lodge. For news and information on marine mammals and baleen whales in the Indian Ocean, visit w megaptera.org.