The MRI Whale Unit at the University of Pretoria plans to conduct research on South African cetaceans following a stranding of a striped male dolphin near Die Kelders. Striped dolphins are an offshore species, making them difficult to study due to their unpredictable location in the ocean and the costs of offshore fieldwork.
The biology and physiology of this species can be understood through a collection of samples from strandings. “The minimum samples collected are skin, blubber and muscle tissue. When possible, we would do a full necropsy of smaller animals like this during which we collect stomach content, reproductive organs, etc.,” says Dr Els Vermeulen of the Unit. These samples undergo a series of analysis such as genetics, stable isotopes, pollutant load, hormonal analyses, fatty acid profiles and more.
This provides important data of these lesser accessible species. The Whale Unit’s focus relates to inshore species including the southern right whale, humpback whale, Bryde’s whale, humpback dolphin, Heaviside’s dolphin and common dolphin. “We are currently deploying offshore acoustic devices to start focusing on the study of offshore species, which is critical in times of increased offshore human activities”, said Dr Vermeulen. The Whale Unit offices are situated in Hermanus, the whale capital of South Africa, and not on campus in Pretoria. This is due to the importance of their regular fieldwork and attendance of strandings which requires access to South Africa’s coast in their work. For more information follow the whale unit on their Facebook page at MRIWhaleUnit.