Universities, conservation organisations and other NGOs are banding together for a 2-month monitoring survey of humpback whales that migrate along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline between the Antarctic and Mozambique.
Kicking off in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the monitoring project forms part of a 30-year survey that is tracking the population recovery of these giants after their numbers were decimated by the coast's commercial whaling practices between 1908 and 1979.
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It was first started by Professor Ken Findlay and Dr Peter Best from Cape Peninsula University of Technology and University of Pretoria, respectively, in 1988. The long-term monitoring will not only highlight the impact whaling and its ban had on the species, but how other factors like climate change, whale watching, pollution, fisheries and oil and gas exploration have affected the whales over the decades.
The data collected will include numbers and pod sizes, density, migration speed and their distance from the shore. This data in turn will also create a measuring stick for the southern ocean's wider ecosystem, which can be used to influence policies around conservation and resource use in the area.
"The recovery of Southern Hemisphere humpback whales from
severe whaling pressures last century when some 210 000 animals were whaled,
must rate as one of the world's great conservation recoveries," commented Findlay.
migrate on the KwaZulu-Natal coast each year were whaled in the Antarctic, on
their migration and in their Mozambican breeding grounds. Their current
recovery at some 10% per annum is really heartening to see."
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The park's Cape Vidal dunes are hosting the surveyors from conservation NGO Wildlife ACT, offering the perfect vantage point as migrating humpback whales move close to the shore en route between the colder and warmer waters.
“Over the past decade, it has been presumed the humpback whale population
is increasing as the number of reported mortalities have increased. However,
threats to these whale populations are accelerating,” said Jennifer Olbers,
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Marine Ecologist.
One of these threats includes noise pollution in the ocean from large ships and offshore mining activities. Whales communicate through a singing-like vocal language and the noise from human activities can overlap with their frequencies and thus cause habitat displacement and changes in behaviour.
"The iSimangaliso coastline offers an important area
in which ocean noise from anthropogenic sources is reduced because shipping
lanes are further from the coastline and offshore mining is prohibited, making
it an ideal location for such a monitoring survey,” concluded Olbers.
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The best spots to see whales in SA
The West Coast
On the Cape West Coast, excellent sightings of southern rights can be enjoyed all the way from Strandfontein to Lambert's Bay, Elands Bay, St Helena Bay, Saldanha Bay and Yzerfontein, just north of Cape Town. Even in the bays of Cape Town southern right whales are frequently spotted. If you’re lucky, you can even see them from the road along the False Bay coast, or on the scenic coastal Victoria Road. If you don’t want to push your luck, book a trip with the experts.
READ: Welcoming of whales: Africa’s first World Whale Conference to be hosted in SA