Migrations of humpback whales past Cape Vidal, South Africa, and an estimate of the population increase rate (1988–2002)

  • KP Findlay
  • PB Best
  • MA Meÿer

Abstract

Shore-based surveys of migrating humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae were undertaken from Cape Vidal, northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, each year between 1988 and 1991, and in 2002. Daily observations of migrating whale groups were carried out from an approx. 60 m-high platform during all surveys. Whale groups were tracked by position-fixing on surfacing bouts using survey theodolites, to determine swimming speeds and headings and distance offshore, while group size estimation was carried out at each theodolite measurement. Numbers of whales observed or projected (at tracked speeds) to cross the midline of the survey area within the observation period each day were tallied in each of three distance bins. These counts were adjusted to account for daily sighting effort and for proportions that were likely to have been missed on account of their distance offshore or poor sighting conditions to produce daily sighting rates. Such daily tallies were summed over the survey period to estimate the number of whales passing Cape Vidal each year, with counts from days of <2.5 h of observation effort (due to weather or sighting condition restraints) replaced by the mean of the previous and following days. The numbers passing to the north of Cape Vidal during coincident periods of 17 days over the 1988–2002 surveys (6–22 July) and 25 days over the 1990, 1991 and 2002 surveys (6–30 July) provide statistically significant increase rates of 11.5% (SE 2.8) and 9.0% (SE 2.7) per annum respectively.

Keywords: Megaptera novaeangliae, migration, shore-based monitoring, western Indian Ocean

African Journal of Marine Science 2011, 33(3): 375–392

Author Biographies

KP Findlay
Department of Oceanography, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
PB Best
Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria, c/o Iziko South African Museum, PO Box 61, Cape Town 8000, South Africa
MA Meÿer
Oceans and Coasts, Department of Environmental Affairs, PO Box 52126, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront 8002, South Africa
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Articles

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eISSN: 1814-2338
print ISSN: 1814-232X