MANELISI MAGORO AND NOKWANDA KUBHEKA
October commemorates National Marine Month, which aims to create awareness about the benefits that are brought by South Africa’s marine and coastal environments.
According to the University of Pretoria’s website, the Mammal Research Institute (MRI) Whale Unit at UP is responsible for the advancement of knowledge and conservation of Southern Africa’s diverse whale and dolphin fauna, through innovative research themes, promoting the development of human capacity in the acquisition of marine mammal knowledge bases. Set up in 1985, the MRI Whale Unit is a worldwide, African research, conservation, and education facility that investigates the nature, populace elements, and conduct of whales, dolphins, and porpoises in the Southern African sub-region and encompassing seas, with the goal of giving information that will advance their conservation. The purpose of the unit is the development of human capacity in these zones.
Dr Els Vermeulen, the Research Manager of the Whale Unit, said that the Whale Unit are currently working on data analyses and is unable to take part in any specific initiatives for Marine Month. She did, however, encourage students to do their part in the conservation of cetaceans by making conscious consumer choices.
The South African government website encourages people to do the following in order to ensure the health of our oceans:
- Reduce plastic use,
- Only purchase seafood that is legal to consume according to the sustainable seafood guide,
- Check with your district’s hazardous waste program to appropriately discard or reuse chemicals and keep them out of rivers and seas,
- Only use green household cleaners or opt to make your own for your health and the health of our oceans,
- Reduce your carbon footprint by buying local, organic food, when possible,
- Plant indigenous shrubs and flower beds in your yard to provide a better habitat for birds which requires less water and fertiliser that can end up in our oceans, and
- If you visit the beach, take your trash with you, and leave everything as you found it for everyone to enjoy.
From 27 to 29 September, the UP MRI Whale Unit conducted its 41st annual aerial survey that records the population of South African southern right whales using an Airbus EC120B between Nature’s Valley and Muizenberg. The whales were monitored for a total of 12 hours and 52 minutes, spread over three days.
A total of 136 females and calves (the most female-calf pairs in the De Hoop Nature Reserve and Walker Bay), and 29 unaccompanied adults (adult whales without a calf) were photographed. This recorded number of southern right whales is lower than the number counted at the end of August. The number recorded marks the second-lowest amount of southern right whales along the South African coastline and indicates the decreasing residency time of these whales in South Africa. The decreasing number of accompanied adults since 2009 indicates that non-calving whales are still not migrating to the South African coast. The observed trends are similar to those recorded in South America and Australia.
Calving success is determined by adequate body conditions such as blubber thickness and energy reserves, which are influenced by feeding success. The fluctuations in food availability and climate change contribute to the anomalous trends and the change in feeding locations of the southern right whales. The data analysis indicates that the change in feeding locations is an attempt to adapt to changing oceanic conditions.
The photographs taken will be analysed and compared to those captured over the previous surveys to assess reproductive success. This analysis assesses reproductive success and monitors the recovery rate of the southern right whales’ population. The survey was carried out under a permit from the Department of Environmental Affairs to approach whales under specific Marine Protected Area permits from the relevant conservation authorities. The public can stay updated by symbolically adopting a whale and supporting whale research and conservation in South Africa
For information go to www.adoptawhale.co.za and Facebook page