More Humpback Calves Struggling

Thursday, 20th November 2014

The 2014 whale watching season has provided us with some great encounters, and we have been seeing a huge increase in calf numbers, along the entire South African coastline. Most whale sightings have included calves, among both the Southern right and humpback whales. It is really encouraging to see so many young whales, as this means the populations are really starting to thrive again since their close brush with extinction in the early 20th century thanks to extensive whaling.


Humpback Whale Calf Scarred


However, many of the calves we have encountered have been inflicted with numerous scars, even on calves that looked only days old. This is, of course, a cause for concern as some of the scars look likely to be from entanglement. We have already reported on a few humpback whale calves covered with scars, which you can read about here. And earlier in the year we were directly involved with a disentanglement battle with a near adult humpback whale. You can read the report of the successful disentanglement here, and there were many other reported entanglements up and down the coast which were not all as successful.


Humpback Whale Calf with scars


But what do the experts have to say about these scars?


"Ja, hectic scars. Difficult to tell what caused them, but could well be killer whales that will go for the thinner part of the whale to get a grip on it first.  Just goes to show how much these guys can handle" - Dr Gwenith Penry, South African Marine Mammal Unit


"Shame – poor animal! I wonder if it’s an orca attack, entanglement or something else? Were there any tooth rake marks?" - Dave Hurwitz, Simonstown Boat Company


"Not my bag, but these might be disentanglement scars?? Can’t believe a killer whale would be so crude, and it must have been a huge shark. Hb calves are becoming entangled (and released) from KZN shark nets, so that might be a possibility." - Professor Peter Best, South African Marine Mammal Unit


"The scarring is difficult to interpret.. rather than an orca attack perhaps this is in the category of ship strike, or net trauma. Good luck" - Clive Martin, World Cetacean Alliance


"I see lots of killer whale attack evidence on large whales and they typically target the appendages - almost always shredding the dorsal fin. Your photos don't look like the work of killer whale to me; it could have been entanglement in some fishing gear, etc., but it looks more like a shark attack."  - Bob Pitman, Marine Mammal and Turtle Division, US National Marine Fisheries Service

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