Cetacean research, in terms of the number of papers, and areas for which data are available, has expanded considerably in the southern African subregion in the past decade, especially in the South-West Indian Ocean. We review cetacean research within this subregion from the 1800s to the present to provide an overview of findings, investigate trends and identify knowledge gaps. Data are presented separately for large whales (those subject to commercial whaling) and smaller cetaceans, and are separated by era and ocean basin. Over 550 peer-reviewed papers and books were identified relating to research on cetaceans within the subregion. More than half (284) have been produced since 1990 and 193 relate specifically to South African waters. The most-studied species are those that are most accessible due to their coastal distributions (southern right whale Eubalaena australis: 45 papers, humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae: 31 papers, killer whales Orcinus orca: 27 papers, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin Tursiops aduncus: 30 papers, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin Sousa chinensis (plumbea form): 25 papers) and/or were hunted commercially (sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus: 25 papers.) Identified conservation concerns vary throughout the subregion, but include bycatch and directed hunts, oil and gas development, ecotourism activities, shifts in prey resources, and noise and chemical pollution. The inshore stocks of Bryde’s whales Balaenoptera edeni, the Ido-Pacific humpback dolphin and the Atlantic humpback dophin S. teuszii were identified as the populations of highest conservation concern, although there are considerable knowledge gaps relating to deep-water species and almost no data (even on species occurrence) are available for several areas and countries.