Partner Spolight: WILDOCEANS WHALETIME Project

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The WILDOCEANS WHALETIME project – a multi-disciplinary approach towards the conservation, research and sustainable tourism of humpback whales

The WILDOCEANS WhaleTime Project’s goal is to bring science, conservation, tourism and community together around the key phenomenon of the annual migration of humpback whales along the east coast of South Africa. This multi-faceted project contributes to the coordination and support of research done on the population status of the east coast C1-stock humpback whales in order to gain a better understanding of population trends and any threats to the population. To this end, the project is currently curating South Africa’s first east coast humpback whale catalogue of fluke images, photographed in their breeding grounds in Mozambique and in South Africa en route to and from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic, and continues to expand the catalogue with collaboration from the Department of Environmental Affairs.

In addition to this, the WILDOCEANS WhaleTime project has spearheaded the latest of a long-term survey of the population status of migrating humpback whales, carried out in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in July/August 2018. The survey forms part of a long-term survey of humpback whales which was designed and initiated in 1988 to track the population increase of humpback whales as they recovered from commercial whaling pressure. Results between 1988 and 2002 suggested a population increase rate in the order of 9% per annum (Findlay et al. 2011). However, this work has not been updated for over a decade. The aim of this survey is to provide a relatively inexpensive and accurate means of updating the increase rate estimate of humpback whales migrating along the east coast of southern Africa, thus adding value to an existing data set.

The project is currently engaging and training tour-guides from disadvantages communities, who are currently conducting tours onboard boat-based whale watching vessels and land-based tours at the Port Natal Maritime Museum. Here the spread awareness about whales and their history, as well as the threats they currently face. The WhaleTime project’s objectives are to be a lead provider in quality public awareness information around whales and related marine conservation topics. The project is currently working with the South Durban Tourism Association (Sodurba) to facilitate Durban in meeting criteria to become a World Whale Heritage, which actively promotes cultural links with cetaceans through arts, music, science and education. This will allow sustainable development for coastal communities that depend on the marine environment by inspiring them to value their marine heritage.

Highlights from June-December 2018:

  • Since July 2018, the WhaleTime guides have participated in over 30 boat-based whale-watching tours and hosted over 53 schools at the Port Natal Maritime museum.
  • Six WhaleTime guides completed their official accredited tour guiding training.
  • Two WhaleTime guides were permanently employed by the programs partners.
  • The WhaleTime project, in collaboration with its partners concluded the first long-term monitoring humpback whale survey in Cape Vidal in almost 2 decades. The project is hopeful that this will continue as an annual survey with many partner organisations.

Going forward for 2019:

  • This year, WILDOCEANS began filming for a docu-series, aimed at profiling the biodiversity of Africa’s Oceans and the associated conservation challenges and threats. One of the episodes is centered around the iconic humpback whale and the various activities of the WhaleTime project.
  • In 2019, the WhaleTime project looks forward to welcoming the new intake of WhaleTime guides. Next year, the project will take on a new challenge of extending its capacity building program by recruiting ‘whale ambassadors’ to promote and generate ocean awareness within the candidate whale heritage site through art, music, tourism and conservation. The project will also be identifying gaps in eco-tourism curriculum at local tourism colleges and provide training to students interested in the field of marine conservation and its related opportunities. In addition to this, the project will continue to work towards the goal of Bluff being awarded Africa’s first World Whale Heritage Site.
  • Finally, the WhaleTime project will continue current research being conducted and play a key role in the next humpback whale monitoring survey in Cape Vidal, as well as exploring options of new and novel automated monitoring techniques.

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