Humpback whale washed up on uMhlanga Beach, a young calf

The humpback whale carcass that washed up on uMhlanga Beach which has been closed off to swimmers is a young calf. Picture: Supplied

The humpback whale carcass that washed up on uMhlanga Beach which has been closed off to swimmers is a young calf. Picture: Supplied

Published Aug 16, 2023


Durban – The South African Association for Marine Biological Research says it was a carcass of a young humpback whale that washed up on uMhlanga beach on Tuesday night.

Executive manager Maryke Musson said humpback whale calves typically measure between 3 to 4.5 metres in length at birth and can weigh close to a ton.

“This particular individual was not a newborn but rather a very young calf, measuring around 6 meters in length. It was already in a state of decomposition, showing numerous bite marks that are likely the result of shark activity. Humpback whales are known for their rapid growth, and within their first year, a calf can grow to a length of 8 to 10 metres.”

The beach has been closed off to swimmers for their safety.

Musson urged the public to avoid approaching animal carcasses on the beach.

“Instead, please reach out to law enforcement, the local marine animal stranding network, the nearby aquarium, or the National Sea Rescue Institute. These organisations are equipped to take the necessary steps. If the animal is still alive, the same contacts remain applicable. Trained teams will make efforts to re-float a live whale, helping it return to the sea if it is strong enough to survive.”

She said humpback whales are a widespread species, known for their global presence. Their migrations are among the most extensive ever documented for a mammal, spanning over 8 000km in a single direction.

“These long journeys are believed to be driven by the rich productivity of Arctic and Antarctic waters, as well as the energy-saving attributes of warm tropical waters. The humpback whales that migrate along our coastline spend their summers feeding around Antarctica. As winter approaches, they embark on a journey up the eastern and western coasts of Africa to give birth in tropical waters.

“In the southern hemisphere, the humpback whale population surpasses 140 000 individuals, consisting of seven distinct breeding stocks. Notably, two of these breeding stocks utilise the waters of South Africa both as a migratory corridor and a summer feeding ground. Some of these whales travel to the warm water of the Mozambique Channel during their annual migration route, where the optimal sea temperatures create ideal conditions for breeding and calving.”

Musson said that there are several potential factors that contribute to these observed deaths, yet the primary causes for juvenile humpback whale mortalities are usually entanglement in fishing gear and predation by orcas.

“Although the rate of calf and juvenile mortality is typically very low, they do occur on occasion. As the humpback whale population grows, the instances of such mortalities might appear to rise as well. The cause of this latest whale death has not been established as yet.”

WhatsApp your views on this story at 071 485 7995.

Daily News