Cetacean research in the southern African subregion: a review of previous studies and current knowledge

  • SH Elwen
  • KP Findlay
  • J Kiszka
  • CR Weir


Cetacean research, in terms of the number of papers, and areas for which data are available, has expanded considerably in the southern African subregion in the past decade, especially in the South-West Indian Ocean. We review cetacean research within this subregion from the 1800s to the present to provide an  overview of findings, investigate trends and identify knowledge gaps. Data are presented separately for large whales (those subject to commercial whaling) and smaller cetaceans, and are separated by era and ocean basin. Over 550 peer-reviewed papers and books were identified relating to research on cetaceans  within the subregion. More than half (284) have been produced since 1990 and 193 relate specifically to South African waters. The most-studied species are those that are most accessible due to their coastal distributions (southern right whale Eubalaena australis: 45 papers, humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae: 31 papers, killer whales Orcinus orca : 27 papers, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin Tursiops aduncus: 30 papers, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin Sousa chinensis (plumbea form): 25 papers) and/or were hunted commercially (sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus: 25 papers). Identified conservation concerns vary throughout the subregion, but include bycatch and directed hunts, oil and gas development, ecotourism activities, shifts in prey resources, and noise and chemical pollution. The inshore stocks of Bryde’s whales Balaenoptera edeni , the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and the Atlantic humpback dolphin S. teuszii were identified as the populations of highest conservation concern, although there are considerable knowledge gaps relating to deep-water species and almost no data (even on species occurrence) are available for several areas and countries.

Keywords: Atlantic Ocean, dolphin, Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean, whale, whaling

African Journal of Marine Science 2011, 33(3): 469–493

Author Biographies

SH Elwen
Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria, based at Iziko South African Museum, PO Box 61, Cape Town 8000, South Africa
KP Findlay
Department of Oceanography, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
J Kiszka
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, UMR 212 EME (Exploited Marine Ecosystems), avenue Jean Monnet, BP 171, 34203 Sète cedex, France; University of La Rochelle, LIENSs (Littoral, Environnement et Sociétés), UMR 6250 CNRS-Université de La Rochelle, Institut du Littoral et de l’Environnement, 2, rue Olympe de Gouges, 17000 La Rochelle, Francem
CR Weir
Ketos Ecology, 4 Compton Road, West Charleton, Kingsbridge, Devon TQ7 2BP, UK; School of Biological Sciences (Zoology), University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ, UK

Journal Identifiers

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