Watching late night TV – I caught an episode of the Sea Shepherd and the amazing work they are doing to prevent ships from catching whales for allegedly scientific purposes. I was taken back that whaling for any reason was still taking place in the 21st century.
In August of this year we went on the morning trip with the Simons Town Boat Company who is the sole permit holder for boat based whale watching in False bay. Right Whales are the RAREST of all large whale species and among the rarest of all marine species as they are an endangered species. They are identified by their enormous heads, which can measure one third of its total length. They have broad flippers and no dorsal fin on their back. They are covered in white raised patches called callosities, which form a unique pattern on each whale. Which could be compared to human figure printing in identify them from one another. I was expecting just a glimpse of maybe 1 or 2 but we got a lot closer, I was totally draw into how majestic and gentle these giants are.
At one stage there was a pod of 5 Southern right Whales near the boat. Dave was close by giving us additional information on the whales as they were interacting with each other. The Adults are generally between 14-15 meters and can weigh over 50 000 kg’s. The sea seemed to calm down for a couple of minutes while we were all engrossed in the whales and taking loads of photo’s. If you are taking photographs, I would recommend that you use a fast shutter speed with a polarized filter.
Right Whales derive their name from the fact they were considered the right whale to hunt! There populations were severely depleted by commercial whaling. They were preferred to other species, as they have an high oil yield, are slow swimmers and usually float when dead. They formed the basis of the shore-based whaling industry at the Cape (South Africa) that began in 1792.
The baleen plates in Right Whales can reach 4 m in length or more and were much in demand in the late 19th century as whalebone was used in corsets, eye-glasses frames, chair springs, hairbrush bristles and other products now manufactured from plastic.
Inside their mouth, the baleen has fine hairy fringes on the ends which helps to trap their food. Right whales feed on copepods which is a type of zooplankton. Each copepod is about the size of a grain of rice and the whales eat about 3 tons every day when they are feeding.
The Southern Right whales were first protected internationally by the Geneva Convention in 1935, which prohibited the taking of killing or Right whales by all nations bound by the convention. Which has been continued in the by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which has designated two ocean sanctuaries (Indian Ocean Sanctuary and Southern Ocean Sanctuary) for the conservation of whales. Under CITES, Southern Right Whales are listed as an Appendix I species, meaning that the species is threatened with extinction and trade it allowed only in exceptional circumstances.
Since then have been protected be legislation their numbers are now increasing unlike the Northern Right Whales which are considered the most endangered of all large whales. They are still threatened from ship strikes, entanglements with fishing gear and habitat degradation such as chemical pollution. These threats may increase as countries in the Southern region develop their coastlines. Not to mention Climate Change will alter the oceans conditions such as warmer ocean, melting of the poles, rising sea levels and it will also change the oceans major current systems. These changes might alter food availability, migration and possibly the reproductive rate of whales.
As space is limited on boat tours, I would recommend that you do your re-search, book in advance and remember to bring your camera gear.
Be respectful of the whales and their environment.
Photographs taken off the coast of Simons Town, South Africa.
All photos were taken with Nikon D800, Nikkor 28-300 mm lens would definitely recommend a polarized filter and a fast shutter speed.
Info from the Cape Town Museum.
NOAA Fisheries office of protected resources.
International whaling Commission.
Paid for the trip out of my money.