The area's name derives from the whale and seal bones that once littered the shore from the whaling industry, although in modern times the coast harbours the skeletal remains of the shipwrecks caught by offshore rocks and fog.
On the coast the upwelling of the cold Benguela current gives rise to dense ocean fogs (called "cassimbo" by the Angolans) for much of the year. The winds blow from land to sea, rainfall rarely exceeds 10 millimetres (0.39 in) annually and the climate is highly inhospitable. There is a constant, heavy surf on the beaches. In the days of human-powered boats it was possible to get ashore through the surf but impossible to launch from the shore. The only way out was by going through a marsh hundreds of miles long and only accessible via a hot and arid desert.