Whales spotted in iSimangaliso’s marine protected area. Picture: Berno Phillipson, Advantage Tours.

After a near two-decade absence, the East Coast Humpback Whale Survey was recently concluded in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, whose ocean component forms one of only 49 UNESCO Marine World Heritage Sites globally.

iSimangaliso’s whale season is from June to December annually, when migrating humpback whales are funnelled close inshore by the coastal orientation as they head northwards towards their breeding grounds in Mozambique and again back south to the feeding grounds later in the season.

In a collaborative effort between several organisations, including conservation authorities, conservation NGOs and South African universities, the survey of the population status of migrating humpback whales was spearheaded by WILDOCEANS, a new marine and coastal conservation programme of the WILDTRUST.

Picture: Berno Phillipson, Advantage Tours.

Over the past decade, it has been presumed the humpback whale population is increasing as the number of reported mortalities have increased. However, threats to these whale populations are accelerating.

Trained students and volunteers track the whales and collect data from vantage points high above the Cape Vidal dunes for 10 hours per day. Using these data, estimates of overall numbers, group sizes, migration speeds and daily densities can be determined.
The monitoring focused on gaining an estimate of overall numbers and group sizes, understanding daily densities of migrating whales as well as gathering data on migration speed and bearing and distance offshore. 

Picture: Berno Phillipson, Advantage Tours.