Record newborn whale sighting in Algoa Bay

Three different newborn whale species were recently spotted in Algoa Bay at the same time. This is a first for the Bay.

Three different newborn whale species were recently spotted in Algoa Bay at the same time. This is a first for the Bay.
Photo:Lloyd Edwards/Raggy Charters

Algoa Bay can brag of yet another record, when it comes to whales, after the newborn calves of not one or two but three different whale species were recently spotted on our shores.

Raggy Charters marine conservationist, Lloyd Edwards, said that it is the first time Algoa Bay has had newborn Southern Right, Humpback and Bryde’s whales at the same time.

The discovery of the newborns was made during a recent Raggy Charters boat cruise, filled to capacity with mostly international tourists.

“What a great sighting we had of two species of migratory whales, both sporting newborn calves. Add this to a recent sighting of our partially resident Bryde’s whale, also with a newborn, we realise how incredibly blessed we are to have such a beautiful Bay. All we need to do is sort out the ship-to-ship fuel transfer fiasco and everyone will be happy,” Edwards said.

He explained that they had recently headed off into the waters with their catamaran, My China.

“Our part-time skipper, ‘Professor’ Warren Tarboton, who is now completing his commercial helicopter licence, had seen some southern right whale activity from the air between St Croix Island and Hougham Park. We headed to the area and very soon we spotted the cow-calf pair.

“Judging from past sightings, the calf was born recently. The reason the pair stay close to shore in our protected Bay is so that the calf exerts itself less during swimming and grows faster,” he said.

He added that the mother and child whisper to each other and with the sound of the waves drowning this out even more, they hopefully escape detection by killer whales.

According to Edwards, while the mother is quite capable of defending herself, the calf will not always be so lucky. The calves should remain in Algoa Bay for around 80 days until they reach the critical length of eight metres.

This would make them strong enough to undertake the 4000km swim back to their feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean.

“Next up was another migratory species, the Humpback Whale, also with a newborn calf in tow. This was a very recent birth as both the dorsal fin and tail flukes on the calf were bent over. This is to make the birth easier on the cow. It was light in colour and had very few scars, which we presume are caused by barnacles attached to its mother,” he explained.

“Although calves are sometimes born in July, the peak is in August. While most birthing takes place off East Africa, we have seen newborns here before.

“The chances increase as one gets closer to the Wild Coast and KwaZulu-Natal.”

Edwards added that while conventional wisdom states that calves need to be born in the warmer tropical waters as they do not have the insulating blubber layer like the adults, other factors may be at play.

Killer whales are known to prey on calves and juveniles, so swimming all the way to the tropics where killer whales are much less abundant may decrease the chance of predation.

“Add three sightings of Indo-Pacific dolphin schools of 50, 200 and 300, some South African fur seals sunning themselves, what is left of the African penguins and some Cape gannets diving, the guests were all totally enthralled,” he said.

Algoa Bay has been quite fortunate when it comes to whale sightings. In June last year, the Bay was awarded a whale heritage site accolade, one of only five in the world and two in South Africa.