Scientists to capture the humpback whale's view of the ocean

2015-11-02 18:49
(Paul Sieswerda, AP)

(Paul Sieswerda, AP)

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Cape Town - A group of local and international scientists will plumb the depths of the ocean off the coast of South Africa - all from the point of view of humpback whales. 

On Wednesday, two teams embarked on research voyages to collect data on the humpback whales between Dassen Island and Groenriviermond off the west coast of the country. 

The Department of Environmental Affairs’ team were on board the RV Algoa, while the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ team was on board the FRS Ellen Khuzwayo.

According to Environmental Affairs, the crew of the FRS Ellen Khuzwayo were planning to attach small cameras to selected humpback whales with suction cups "in order to have a whale’s view of the ocean". 

That team would also be dedicated to the biological sampling of humpback whales encountered in the region. This sampling would include collecting DNA samples and taking photographs of whale tails or flukes, which serve as a unique identifier similar to finger prints in humans.

They would also attach satellite tracking instruments in order to understand their movement and behaviour, both on the west coast and on the whales' return to Antarctic feeding grounds.

The crew of the RV Algoa would focus on environmental sampling for analysis of chemical make-up of the region. A team of researchers would also record every whale seen along a pre-designed research path.

"Humpback whales are a charismatic and acrobatic large whale species that typically visits the west coast of Africa every winter for breeding. Upon completion of breeding activities, they begin their 2 500km swimming journey to Bouvet Island, South West of Cape Town in late spring/early summer," the Environmental Affairs Department said.

"These whales were heavily exploited and reduced to low numbers until interventions by concerned states through the International Whaling Commission, of which South Africa is a founding member."

It said humpback whales that were found in South African waters had interesting behavioural characteristics. 

"Some of these whales have suspended their migration, opting to mill around South Africa through all seasons.

"Furthermore, these whales gather in South Africa for a feeding frenzy that scientists believe is unique to South Africa in the Southern Hemisphere. It is suspected that changes driven by climate change have influenced this 'unusual' behaviour.

"Although an estimated 500 humpback whales are found in South African waters, no evidence of breeding has been recorded off the West coast of South Africa, raising questions around their breeding locality."

Read more on:    environmental affairs  |  cape town  |  marine life

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