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Humpback Whales – we’re happy they’re back in Plett

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Come June, eyes are kept peeled for that elusive blow as boat trips start taking a turn off the point and further to sea searching, and hoping, for the first sighting of a Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae. Humpback Whales are large animals, measuring 13-14 m in length and weighing 30-40 tonnes. They have a big bushy blow distinctive of the species, as well as a distinctive body shape. Their pectoral fins are narrow and one-third the length of the body, and they have a small dorsal fin followed by small bumps down the centre of the back. The upper jaw also has 3-5 rows of bumps which each house a single hair follicle. They are black above and variably white below depending on the individual. We know that the Humpback Whales will be migrating northwards from their summer feeding sites (where they feed almost exclusively on krill) in the cold and productive Antarctic and sub-antarctic waters before reaching the west and east coast of Africa, but their exact arrival date isn’t known. Now in July we are officially in whale season, where we can almost daily see either Humpback or Southern Right Whales. Humpback Whales are in fact a cosmopolitan species occurring in all the major ocean basins around the world, and all migrate from cold temperate feeding grounds to warmer tropical and subtropical breeding grounds. As many know, this (and other species) were heavily hunted prior to the worldwide ban on whaling in 1966 – whaling was banned in the southern hemisphere from 1963. This species has proved itself to be incredibly resilient and is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN as the population has increased in number from only a few thousand to over 60 000 individuals and still growing!

Written by: Minke Witteveen

For further reading:

  • Branch, G.M., Griffiths, C.L., Branch, M.L. and Beckley, L.E. 2010. Two Oceans: A guide to the marine life of southern Africa. Pp. 364. Random House Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N. 2008. Megaptera novaeangliae. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008. Accessed: 02-07-2016. URL: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/13006/0

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