While East Londoners have been enjoying a bumper season of whale sightings over the past few weeks, a fourth humpback whale in less than a month has beached and died along the East London coastline.
East London Museum principal scientist Kevin Cole said the strandings were a new record for his cetacean database.
Yesterday, Cole examined the badly decomposed carcass of the fourth dead humpback on the rocks west of Chintsa West.
He said the body of the fully adult male had been seen floating in the ocean for a week or two.
Cole said it had washed up on the rocks on early Sunday evening.
“Shark bites noted would have been predation after the animal had died,” he said.
Cole tries to visit the site of every stranding in order to glean scientific information used for DNA work and also to carry out pathology to detect illness.
He said a number of factors could be responsible for the strandings including old age, pollution, ship strikes and the effects of seismic blasting to explore for gas and oil offshore.
Last Thursday, Cole investigated the stranding of a five- or six-month-old 6.3m humpback whale 300m west of Cove Rock and noted propeller strikes on its body.
He said the juvenile whale would still have been suckling and that it was not possible at that stage to determine whether it had died before or after being hit by a vessel.
“General body condition was good and I estimate the carcass had been floating at sea for at least two days before washing up on the sandy beach near Cove Rock.”
He said blubber samples had been taken for DNA studies.
On September 25, the Daily Dispatch reported on a decomposed humpback whale carcass in Kiwane, some 46km outside East London , while on October 3 there was a live stranding of an adult humpback whale near Sandy Point on the Wild Coast, north of Wavecrest, which later died on the beach.
Cole said in both instances “local folk and sangomas had removed a lot of the meat and blubber for muti purposes”.
“The Sandy Point whale may have been ill and got trapped by the receding high tide. There was no visible trauma to the body.”
He said it was illegal to remove any part of a whale or dolphin carcass, explaining that marine mammals carry infectious diseases that are harmful to human health.
“The actions of people removing meat, blubber and skeletal material is unlawful. All stranded marine animals, whether dead or alive, are protected by the Marine Living Resources Act.”
Cole said whale activity had been reported along the Eastern Cape coastline as humpback whales were moving down from the warmer tropical waters where they breed and calve and were on their way to Antarctica to feed on krill in colder waters. Whales and their young move closer to shore to suckle their young in shallower waters.
l Report strandings to Cole on 082-302-2555, Siani Tinley at the EL Aquarium on (043)705-2637 or the stranding hotline on 071-724-2122. — firstname.lastname@example.org