“They seem to have arrived a little later, but there seem to be more of them than last year.” That’s the opinion of Bridget James of the Mossel Bay Cetacean Project. The Project – under the University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute and the locally-based Oceans Research – has been monitoring the presence of whales and dolphins in the Bay for at least five days a week since January 2010.
“We’re seeing fairly large pods of southern right whales every day at the moment, and on one morning we recorded twelve in the Bay.
“We’ve also seen lots of mother and calf pairs as well as mating groups – especially in the Glentana-Little Brak River area – and that shows a nice balance.”
Ms. James has the assistance of a number of interns and volunteers who come to the Oceans Campus for in-service training and work experience for a month at a time.
“There were 22 here in July – mostly from the USA, but also some from Britain – working on various different research projects from the whale and dolphin survey to white shark monitoring (where the Oceans scientists are studying habitat use), and to studies in environmental factors affecting benthic sharks,” she said.
Mossel Bay Tourism’s Marcia Holm said that she saw a southern right whale swimming towards the harbour mouth on Tuesday this week.
“It’s not an uncommon occurrence to see them there, and even inside the harbour itself.”
She said that Mossel Bay’s natural geography made land-based whale and dolphin watching particularly easy. “You can see them from almost any elevated position, and from places like the Cape St. Blaise Trail and the high ground along the coast between Hartenbos and Glentana.
“And there’s boat-based whale watching, too, with the crew of the legendary ‘Romonza,’ who’ve developed an amazing reputation for their marine safaris.”
Ms. Holm noted that Mossel Bay Tourism is an enthusiastic supporter of the many scientific research projects currently under way in the area.
“It’s exciting to have so many bright young people in town, of course, but there’s also the serious side to what they’re doing – both because of their contributions to science, and because of the benefits to the economy from hosting their interns and volunteers.
“Mossel Bay is becoming an important centre for this kind of tourism thanks to the natural abundance of the Bay,” she said.
Ms. James said that members of the public should learn to identify the many whale and dolphin species that can be seen in the Southern Cape at different times of the year.
“Some of our local residents include Indo-Pacific bottlenose and humpback dolphins, as well as long-beaked common dolphins and the whales that frequent our coastline during their annual migrations.
“But can you identify these lovely creatures as easily as you can a springbok or a lion?”
She said that she’ll be talking about species identifications, and about their behaviour and their use of their habitats, during a meeting of the local branch of WESSA (the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa). The presentation will take place in the Lecture Theatre of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Saasveld Campus in George this Saturday, 18 August, from 10h00 to 12h00.
Entrance will be free for WESSA members, and R10 for non-members.
By Martin Hatchuel Mossel Bay Tourism