Dr Els Vermeulen and Tim Tindall at the ski boat club.

The University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute has relocated its whale unit from Cape Town to Hermanus.

Members of the Mammal Research Institute were welcomed last week as new members of the ski boat club by Tim Tindall club chairman. The whale unit (www.up.ac.za/whale-unit) is responsible for the annual southern right whale survey covering the sea from Nature’s Valley to Muizenberg.  

The survey is done during the first two weeks of October and last year was particularly interesting due to the much larger number of southern right whales visiting our shores. The survey indicated the presence of nearly 700 female southern right whales with calves between Hermanus and Witsand. This was nearly double the number expected under normal conditions.

However, sightings of these animals haven’t been normal in the last couple of years. Sightings decreased dramatically in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and last year seemed to be at an all-time high since aerial surveys began in 1979. The exact reason for this is currently under investigation, but it is believed to be related to limiting feeding conditions in the Southern Ocean, and an associated change in calving intervals. Similar trends have been observed in the breeding grounds of Argentina and Brazil, as well as in Australia.

Dr Els Vermeulen, research manager of the Whale Unit, has a PhD in Zoology from the University of Liege in Belgium and is doing research on southern right whales and the humpback dolphin which is the most endangered marine mammal in South African waters.

The unit’s Chris Wilkinson is a Master’s degree candidate studying humpback whales on our East Coast. Their new offices will be in the centre of Hermanus.

Els would like to share research information on our whales. She says: “it is better to base your discussions on known facts rather than jump to conclusions with emotional arguments”.  She plans to give talks on whales at the ski boat club.

The ski boat club promotes sustainable and safe boat-based fishing, with a growing support for catch, measure and release. The club caters for social members as well as boat owners and fishing enthusiasts. It is based in the New Harbour and welcomes those with an interest in the environment or the fishing history of Hermanus (www.wbbsbc.co.za).

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