CAPE TOWN - A survey of the population of southern right whales off the coast of Cape Town has shown the second-lowest incidence of the aquatic mammals in 24 years and scientists in South Africa are linking the scarcity to climate change.
The release of the findings of the survey, which was undertaken by the Whale Unit of the University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute, comes as the city’s tourism industry is already puzzled by the sudden departure of great white sharks from False Bay, which lies off the east of the city. None of the sharks have been seen this year.
Shark dives, where tourists are lowered into the sea in a cage, and whale watching are popular tourist activities in the region around Cape Town.
The whale survey, which was conducted by helicopter, found 200 of the whales in a stretch of False Bay, down from over 1,000 last year, the university said in a statement. Still, in 2016 only 119 were seen. The changes may be related to climate conditions in the Southern Ocean, which lies off the Antarctic.
“We believe the whales are not finding enough food, due to changes in the climate conditions of the Southern Ocean, possibly related to climate change,” the unit said. “Right whales eat krill and copepods and with not enough food they cannot store enough energy to complete the costly migration and reproduction. This has implications for population recovery.”
Southern right whales can grow to 16 meters (52 feet) and weigh 60 metric tons.