ISi­man­gal­iso whale sur­vey con­cluded

Zululand Observer - Weekender - - ZO NEWS - Larry Bent­ley

THE east coast Hump­back Whale sur­vey was re­cently con­cluded in the iSi­man­gal­iso Wet­land Park, whose ocean com­po­nent forms one of only 49 UNESCO marine her­itage sites glob­ally.

The sur­vey of the pop­u­la­tion sta­tus of mi­grat­ing Hump­back Whales was spear­headed by Wil­do­ceans, a new marine and coastal con­ser­va­tion pro­gramme of the Wildtrust, un­der a re­search per­mit granted by the iSi­man­gal­iso Author­ity.

Marine ecol­o­gist, Dr Jen­nifer Ol­bers, work­ing with iSi­man­gal­iso’s con­ser­va­tion part­ner Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, said, ‘Over the past decade it has been pre­sumed the Hump­back Whale pop­u­la­tion is in­creas­ing as the num­ber of re­ported mor­tal­i­ties have de­creased.

‘How­ever, threats to these whale pop­u­la­tions are ac­cel­er­at­ing.’

Modus operandi

Wildlife ACT, a con­ser­va­tion non­govern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion which spe­cialises in en­dan­gered and pri­or­ity species mon­i­tor­ing, and which un­der­takes ter­res­trial mon­i­tor­ing for the iSi­man­gal­iso Author­ity, sta­tioned mon­i­tor­ing teams on two tow­ers on top of dunes to un­der­take the full-time mon­i­tor­ing re­quired over a two-month pe­riod.

Es­ti­mates of over­all num­bers, group sizes, mi­gra­tion speeds and daily den­si­ties can be de­ter­mined us­ing this data.

Results from this project will al­low sci­en­tists and con­ser­va­tion­ists to ex­pand on cur­rent knowl­edge of the east coast Hump­back Whale mi­gra­tion and there­fore es­ti­mate any changes in the pop­u­la­tion.

Whales com­mu­ni­cate us­ing low fre­quency acous­tic sig­nals which al­low in­ter­ac­tion over large dis­tances.

Noise in the ocean, such as from large ships or off-shore min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, can over­lap with these acous­tic sig­nals and have been re­ported to in­duce habi­tat dis­place­ment, be­havioural changes and al­ter­ations in the whales’ acous­tic sig­nals.

The pro­tected iSi­man­gal­iso coast­line of­fers an im­por­tant area in which ocean noise from an­thro-pogenic sources is re­duced, be­cause ship­ping lanes are fur­ther from the coast­line and off-shore min­ing is pro­hib­ited, mak­ing it an ideal lo­ca­tion for a mon­i­tor­ing sur­vey.

Com­mer­cial whal­ing

Com­mer­cial whal­ing off the north­ern KwaZulu-Natal coast­line be­tween 1908 and 1979 dec­i­mated whale pop­u­la­tions in these waters.

The pro­tec­tion of Hump­back Whales in 1963 marked one of the great South African marine con­ser­va­tion suc­cess sto­ries, with num­bers steadily in­creas­ing dur­ing this time. The cur­rent sur­vey forms part of a long-term, shore-based mi­gra­tion sur­vey which was de­signed and ini­ti­ated in 1988 by Prof Ken Findlay, of the Cape Penin­sula Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, and Dr Peter Best, of the Uni­ver­sity of Pre­to­ria’s Mam­mal Re­search In­sti­tute, to track the pop­u­la­tion in­crease of Hump­back Whales as they re­cov­ered from com­mer­cial whal­ing pres­sure.

‘The re­cov­ery from se­vere whal­ing pres­sures in the last cen­tury when some 210 000 whales were killed, must rate as one of the world’s great con­ser­va­tion re­cov­er­ies.

‘Pop­u­la­tions that mi­grate along the KZN coast each year were whaled in the Antarc­tic, dur­ing their mi­gra­tion and in their Mozam­bi­can breed­ing grounds.

‘Their cur­rent re­cov­ery of some ten per­cent per an­num is re­ally heart­en­ing to see,’ said Prof Findlay.

Tourism op­por­tu­ni­ties

Noth­ing can com­pare to be­ing up close to the largest crea­tures on earth, and in iSi­man­gal­iso there are three li­censed whale watch­ing op­er­a­tors tak­ing tours out to ex­pe­ri­ence this awe-in­spir­ing spec­ta­cle.

The lat­est re­cip­i­ent of a per­mit in iSi­man­gal­iso is also the first black woman to achieve this.

Hav­ing worked in the lo­cal tourism in­dus­try for many years, Abi­gail Mncwango suc­cess­fully ap­plied for and re­ceived a per­mit to open her business, Whale Sa­faris in the St Lu­cia sec­tion of the park.

She started op­er­at­ing in June this year. Ad­van­tage Tours has been op­er­at­ing in iSi­man­gal­iso’s waters off St Lu­cia for 20 years and their ocean out­ings re­mains one of the most en­dur­ing tourist at­trac­tions in this sec­tion of the park.

Co-owner Ri­ette Ben­nett says this has been one of the best years in terms of sight­ings of Hump­back Whales and calves since they started op­er­at­ing in 1998, with ev­ery day out­do­ing the pre­vi­ous one.

In the Sod­wana Bay sec­tion, Sod­wana Bay Lodge also op­er­ates a whale boat for vis­i­tors to add an ex­pe­ri­ence to their beach and div­ing hol­i­days.

Owner Richard Scott agrees that it has been a great sea­son and whales are still be­ing seen reg­u­larly, head­ing south. He says on rare oc­ca­sions, Orcas (killer whales) also put in an ap­pear­ance, which is al­ways a fan­tas­tic thrill.

A flap­ping tail of a hump­back whale off the iSI­man­gal­iso Wet­land Park

Abi­gail Mncwango with her whal­ing per­mit

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