Whale Watching Possible in Watamu

Visitors to Kenya when hearing about the great migration, automatically imagine herds of wildebeest thundering over the plains from Tanzania to Kenya. However, few travellers in Kenya and from overseas have heard of “The Other Migration”. Humpback whales, the marine mammal giants of the ocean, 15 metres in length and 30 tonnes in weight, travel annually in their thousands from the Antarctic to Kenya to breed and have their calves in our safe tropical waters. Both migrations peak between July and September, which means that Kenya hosts the “Twin Migration”, a unique wildlife phenomenon, incorporating both savannah and sea safaris.

One of the best places to see whales is the Malindi-Watamu Marine National Reserve, where Watamu Marine Association (WMA) has studied dolphins and whales since 2011. WMA works with the Kenya Wildlife Service to help protect marine mammals, recycle plastic and marine litter, and to engage the local community, including fishermen in eco-tourism activities.

From a tourism perspective, whale watching worldwide attracts visitors in the thousands to famous locations such as Canada, Alaska and California. In 2012, Watamu hotels started to offer whale watching excursions, together with supporting research and conservation with WMA and KWS. This collaboration between tourism and research organisations has meant the beginning of an exciting new tourist activity at the Kenya coast.

As interest in whale watching increased, more businesses started to provide whale watching tours, including local and sports fishermen. WMA encouraged the start-up of a citizen science network, with all marine users reporting sightings of whales and other marine animals. This was branded in 2013 as the Tracking the #MarineBigFive. Thus reports of humpback whales in Kenyan waters rocketed in 2013 and again 2017 in the Malindi-Watamu Marine Reserve alone.

2018 whale sightings may surpass previous figures, with daily reports of whales coming in coast wide and assisted by the Kenya Marine Mammal Network (KMMN) which was formed in 2011. The KMMN is a coalition of government organisations, marine businesses, universities, researchers and conservation groups which include, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, the National Environment Management Authority, WMA, WWF Kenya, Wildlife Conservation Society, Watamu Sea Fishing Club, local operators and marine service providers. With a flow of new members joining from universities, schools and the private sector that’s a lot of eyes on the ocean looking for whales!

For the visitor, watching whales in their natural environment leaping out of the water, sometimes in pairs, or in larger family groups, is an amazing and unforgettable sight. Humpback whales are among the most acrobatic of whales, and spend time leaping or ‘breaching’ to communicate, play, or give themselves a mini spa to remove unwanted skin parasites. A recent guest to Watamu claimed that the experience is “more exciting than great white shark watching in South Africa” and “observing these magnificent animals with young calves erupting like missiles out of the water is a natural beauty to behold.” Or the most magical moment - relaxing on the Ocean Sports or Hemingways’ terraces sipping a cold beer, watching the whales leap in the Marine Park. Truly an experience not to be missed.

The WMA Marine Mammal Conservation Project is supported by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife – Giraffe Centre.

For more information about the Humpback Whale Migration please contact

Steve Trott – stevetrott@watamu.biz