South Africa’s whale season runs between June and November, bringing annual excitement to the country’s coastal towns. The Southern Right whale migrates to the country’s southern coast for a few months of calving and the nursing of their offspring. Two further whale species, the Hump and Bryde’s, also pass the coast in the second half of every year.
But behind this beauty and serenity lies an age-old struggle – mammal against man. And it is this battle which has resulted in whales being listed as one of the most endangered marine species.
The most prominent causes of whale mortality include collisions with large vessels and entangling with commercial fishing gear. The migratory patterns of these gigantic marine mammals intensifies the mortality rate as vessel collisions and entanglement are more likely to happen at near shore locations – which at the same time serve as the best grounds for calving and nursing thus continuing to attract whales.
A recent study (Julie van der Hoop, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts) confirmed that human activities were still the main reason for current day whale mortality. A total of 1,762 mortality cases were investigated over a period of four decades, of which 67% proved to be human related. Death due to entangling with fishing gear took the greatest toll, claiming 323 whales. Even more distressing, the study confirmed that conservation efforts over the past four decades were unsuccessful in bringing notable change to whale mortality rates. Official conservation measures, including vessel restrictions and speed control in identified whale hotspots, brought no relief to the increasing mortality rates. Four decades of no to little improvement in whale conservation while these majestic giants of the oceans are already rated as endangered.
Statistics bluer than the whale environment. Yet whale watching seasons offers an excellent opportunity for whale mortality awareness and fund-raising for continued research. Take your whale watching outing a step further this season and visit your nearest marine research institution to learn how to become involved in whale conservation. For continued whale watching, now and in the future.
Photographs: some rights reserved by marragem and Bodhi Surf School via flickr