Whale Time

By Fred Kockett

Shooting whales the eco-friendly way

Almost hunted to extinction forty years ago, whales are now at the heart of a ‘citizen science’ project launched by Wildlands last week.

It is called Whale Time and it hopes to engage the public in monitoring the migration of whales along KwaZulu-Natal’s coast. To participate, people simply upload photos of whale sightings on the Whale Time website, providing the GPS position of where each photo was taken and other information about each whale encounter. The envisaged outcome is an interactive, public data base on whale behaviour and habitat use.

“All sightings, from either a boat or the shore, should be reported as long they are accompanied by a photo,” said Wildlands’ Project Manager, Mark Gerrard.

Gerrard said the Whale Time team were particularly keen on photos of whales in action: blowing, breaching, fluking, lob-tailing, sailing or sky-hopping – a term for a whale ‘standing’ vertically, its head out the water, enabling it to check out its surroundings.

“The associated educational aspects of the project would not only make people aware of how close several species of whales came to extinction, but also highlight new threats that whales face today. For instance, many people do not know that Durban once had the largest land based whaling operation in the world,” said Gerrard.

Sadly, more than 28,000 whales were hunted and killed off Durban’s coastline between 1907 and 1975. South Africa banned whaling in 1979 – and it was estimated that there were as few as 340 humpback whales and less than 100 Southern Right whales left in the southwest Indian Ocean along the coast of South Africa.  Through on-going conservation efforts these two species have partially recovered.  Latest surveys suggest that as many as 7000 humpback whales and more than 1000 Southern Right whales migrate past Durban each year.

Supported by Wildlands, Grindrod Bank, The Blue Fund and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the Whale Time team is now collating available data and photos of humpback whale migration on KwaZulu-Natal’s coast. Getting good pictures of humpback whales will help the team create a photo-identification catalogue featuring individual whales. The Whale Time crew will then be able to collaborate with other scientists in tracking the behaviour and movement of these individual whales around the world.

While Whale Time encourages people to go whale watching, it is important to respect whale space and observe the rules and codes of conduct in observing these mammals when out at sea.

For further information and to upload your whale pictures visit www.whaletime.co.za. Please also find Whale Time on Facebook and Twitter.

Photography – Ken Findlay