The Evolution of a Region: A Sea Change for Durban’s Former Whaling Industry

World Cetacean Alliance
Published: 24 August 2021
Last edited: 24 August 2021
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The Whale Heritage Site (WHS) program is a replicable model that recognises locations that demonstrate the importance of whales, dolphins and ocean habitats through culture, education, protection & conservation solutions.

The Bluff is the first WHS in a developing country - a flagship for other communities in the region. Its journey from whaling mecca to a beacon of hope for marine conservation and sustainability is profound.

The WHS program empowers coastal communities to champion cetaceans and biodiversity. It showcases their relationship with the ocean by encouraging coexistence; celebrating cetaceans in culture, arts and events; working towards environmental sustainability; and developing research and education programs. 

The Bluff has seen sustainable practices and livelihoods continually improve. Increased investment in eco-tourism has transformed The Bluff to a place where whales thrive and the local community benefits. 


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Rocky reef / Rocky shore
Local actors
Outreach & communications
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Species management
Standards/ certification
Sustainable financing
Sustainable livelihoods
World Heritage
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Changes in socio-cultural context
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with associations


Bluff, 4036, Durban, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


The Bluff is an area of outstanding natural beauty and an abundance of wildlife. However, 200 years of whaling saw humpback whale populations decimated. When whaling eventually ceased in 1975, there were only around 600 humpback whales remaining. Whaling once formed a lucrative trade and was a significant contributor to the local economy in this area. Today they remain under threat from commercial activities including shipping, fishing, tourism, and coastal development. 


The community in the Bluff - individuals, businesses, educators, artists - are incredibly diverse. All with different attitudes, expectations and relationships to the ocean and to cetaceans. Uniting their voice and ensuring that all those expectations and attitudes are represented in a locally developed solution, and that the WHS program is seen as valuable and relevant to all stakeholders is a challenge. 


Beneficiaries include the local and regional community, indigenous communities, families, businesses, artists, students, authorities, organisations, and of course the cetaceans. Providing economic, social and environmental benefits. 

How do the building blocks interact?

Whale Heritage sites must go through a rigerous process to become accredited: an initial online application, a candidacy review, optional technical advice and support, a final application and then, if successful, Whale Heritage Site designation. The process is owner, led and managed by the local stakeholder group throughout every stage. 


The Bluff has become a premier destination for whale-watching, generating significant economic and social benefits. Creating jobs, increasing tourism and investment, and helping build new partnerships. It has also created resilience and additional income streams for a community affected by Covid. 

Its importance to stakeholders that represent this region has contributed towards cetacean research and helped change social attitudes towards the environment, ocean habitats and cetaceans.

Art projects, "Whale Trail" walking routes, installations and educational projects, inform, inspire and educate the community and beyond about environmental, ocean and cetacean protection and conservation.  

Whales and dolphins continue to face challenges. Pollution, entanglements and climate change are just some of the threats they face. The Whale Heritage Site certification is a replicable solution demonstrating that with a local focus underpinned by global co-operation, we can promote awareness, affect hearts and minds and impact real change through education, sustainability and conservation.

It is hoped that the example set by The Bluff in achieving this gold standard in the protection of cetaceans and their habitats will inspire other coastal areas and communities to follow in their footsteps.


Martijn Schouten

Almost 200 years of whaling saw humpback whale populations decimated. It is estimated that when whaling eventually ceased in 1975, there were only around 600 humpback whales remaining. They were hunted almost to extinction. 


But in a remarkable evolution, in just two generations, whales in this region have gone from being relentlessly hunted to passionately protected. The Bluff’s rich heritage and long whaling history are forever captured in the museum that has been transformed from an old whaling station to a place that now serves to educate the public about wildlife and the importance of ocean conservation. 


Conservation is a gift to my children and to theirs.” Tim Choate, Chair of Wild Oceans which led the Whale Heritage Site application.

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Harry Eckman World Cetacean Alliance