EnvironmentTravel

The Beach Brief

Kwadukuza beach manager ‘Seaweed’ Steve Honneysett asks, “where are our whales?” after a disappointing season of whale watching.

What has changed the migration route of our whales this year along the KZN North Coast?

This year I prepared a space for them on my morning radio slot on 88FM, Radio Life & Style, with the intention of reporting the best sightings to the listeners so that their show could be enjoyed by everyone but this year, for reasons unknown to us, they skipped the North Coast of KZN.

I recall last year sitting on the hill top at Sheffield Beach with binoculars in hand observing up to 20 animals frolicking out in the ocean all across the coastline. It was a magnificent sight, with some breaching and some lifting their tails high out of the water as they communicated with each other. It was truly a sight to see.

This year as normal we prepared ourselves for the season by getting our boats ready, just in case one was to get caught up in a shark net. We work closely with the KZN Sharks Board assisting them if required to cut a whale loose from a net, which happens from time to time even with whale pinging devices attached to all the net installations.

Early August we expect to see the first arrivals which increase as the month progresses but this year a few arrived close inshore and then all went quiet, which is when we started investigating.

Local ski boat fishermen fishing some distance offshore reported many sightings, but all were moving south and not inshore as normal.

So what is it that has changed their migration pattern coming in from the southern Arctic to the northern shores of KZN then moving south into the Cape waters before their long swim back to the Arctic.

The greatest shoal on earth passes the KZN coast in June and July and with it follows every size fish and fish species all hoping to get their share of the bounty, but this year we had sightings of killer whales – or orcas as they are commonly referred to – in our warm waters, which is rare.

Early August we expect to see the first arrivals which increase as the month progresses but this year a few arrived close inshore and then all went quiet, which is when we started investigating.

So did this deter the whales from hanging out along our coast line, or could it have been the methods used by the oil companies to test the ocean floor for oil wells in the northern KZN waters that has kept them away?

If it was the presence of orcas, then I am sure whales will stay clear, especially if they intend to calve as a baby whale will not stand a chance against a pack of orcas.

The equipment that is used to search for oil deposits under the sea floor (I am told) interferes with the whale’s navigation system so I am sure that could be a reason for them moving on.

Whatever the reason, it has resulted in a quiet whale season with a few rare sightings and, for me, nothing to report about on the radio.

Hermanus has had its usual whale festivities and the Eastern Cape has been alive with activity so let’s hope that there has been no permanent damage caused and they return next year.

I can’t help thinking if the same thing is happening to other species like the turtles. Time will tell.