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Whales of the Plettenberg Bay waters

Over the past few weeks we have seen both our migrant whale species come into Plettenberg Bay, bringing the number of whale species in these waters up to three. It is often easy to focus on our more ‘personable’ migrant whale species that visit our bay, and forget our incredible but shy resident.

The Bryde’s whale Balaenoptera brydei is a Plett local, being found in Plettenberg Bay waters year round. The near shore population grow to between 12-13 m in length, and weighing up to 15 tonnes. Bryde’s whales are dark grey on top and white underneath, with a very pointed jaw and three longitudinal ridges on the upper jaw. They have a clearly defined dorsal fin, which is noticeably hooked. They are listed as Data Deficient by the IUCN.

Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae is a winter visitor to Plettenberg Bay, migrating up from sub-antarctic waters – popping in to Plett as they make their way further north, and popping in on their way back to subantarctic waters between June and December. They migrate northward to mate and give birth. 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. They are black above and variably white below depending on the individual. They are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

Southern Right Whales Eubalaena australis is a winter visitor to Plettenberg Bay, migrating up from sub-antarctic waters with some hanging around in Plettenberg Bay while others continue further north between June and December. They migrate northward to mate and give birth. Southern Rights grow to 15-17 m in length, weighing 50-65 tonnes. They are easily recognisable with no dorsal fin, broad and squarish black flippers, a black stocky body, and a distinctive head with a large mouth which appears to be upside down, and white wart-like callosities. Though it can be difficult to see the body of the whale under the water, an identifying feature of the whale is a V-shaped blow. They are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

The Minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata, while found in the waters surrounding South Africa is a rare visitor to Plettenberg Bay. Females of this species average only 9 meters in length, while males are slightly smaller. The Minke whale, like its close relative the Bryde’s whale, is known to be a shy animal. They are black to grey-blue in colouration on the top of their bodies, while their undersides are white. These animals have a distinctive pointed head, and a tall dorsal fin. They are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

Written by: Minke Witteveen

For further reading:

  • 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. Balaenoptera acutorostrata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008. Accessed: 2017-06-05. URL: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/2474/0
  • 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. and Zerbini, A.N. 2008. Balaenoptera edeni. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008. Accessed: 2016-08-01. URL: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/2476/0
  • 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. and Zerbini, A.N. 2013. Eubalaena australis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013. Accessed: 05-06-2016. URL: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/8153/0
  • 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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