Whales migrate to KZN waters

2010-07-07 00:00

AROUND 8 000 humpback and 200 southern right whales have made their way to the warm KwaZulu-Natal coast from icy Antarctic waters this winter.

During this year’s migration, the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board (KZNSB) has been inundated with calls from concerned whale watchers who believed the whales were in distress.

“Fortunately, the majority of the calls received are about whales that are in no form of distress, but rather just behaving absolutely normally,” said head of operations, Mike Anderson-Reade.

“For example, it is not unusual for southern right whales to venture very close to the shore and to lie motionless on the water surface.

“They will do this for long periods with only occasional movement,” he added.

Although whale behaviour is largely unexplainable, acts like breaching — when the animal launches its entire body or parts of it completely clear of the surface — and “spy hopping” (when the whale raises its head completely out of the water) are no cause for alarm.

Still, it is common for whales to collide with marine vessels and become entangled in shark nets.

“With the increase in numbers of whales, it is unfortunately inevitable that there will be an increase in collisions between whales and fishing gear of all types.

“This is not unique to South Africa and is a problem worldwide,” said Anderson-Reade.

The sharks board has stringent policies about disentangling whales from nets.

“The board has three specialised whale release teams and operates under the strict guidance of the South African Whale Disentanglement Network,” he said.

“Only persons appointed by the department may render assistance to trapped or entangled whales or dolphins.”

Legislation stipulates that members of the public may not attempt to disentangle a whale, regardless of the circumstances.

“This is a high-risk operation and extremely dangerous and can only be done by those who have had proper training and are in possession of the correct equipment,” Anderson-Read said.

The KZNSB encourages members of the public to report entangled whales either to the KZNSB at 031 566 0400 or the National Sea Rescue Institute at 031 361 8567.

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