A comprehensive aerial survey of whales and dolphins off the coast of South Africa supported by a range of organisations including Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has recorded an astounding 1,106 southern right whales, including 536 calves, an all-time record.
Now in its 39th year, South Africa’s annual survey of southern right whales and other cetaceans is conducted by the Whale Unit at the University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute. Spread over an eight-day period in early October, this year’s survey involved over 36 hours of flying time, during which an eye-watering 20,000 photographs were taken – many of them while hanging (securely) out of a helicopter.
The survey team recorded every whale and dolphin species encountered, but focused specifically on southern right whales, counting every individual along the stretch of coastline from Nature’s Valley to Muizenberg. Photographs were taken of every female accompanied by a calf (each whale can be identified by the unique pattern of callouses on its head). Over the coming months, these images will be analysed with the aid of a computer-assisted image recognition system and cross-referenced with the Whale Unit’s existing catalogue of southern right whales, which comprises visual data on over 2,000 recognisable adults recorded during the previous 38 surveys.