News / South Africa / Local News

Mia Moorcroft
2 minute read
26 Jul 2017
9:27 am

Only one whale washed ashore on east coast this year compared to 10 last year

Mia Moorcroft

Last year realised the highest number of whale strandings in the history of monitoring the east coast.

NMFS/AFP/File / Ari S. Friedlaender
Humpback whale. The Humpback Whale migration season is going swimmingly, says Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

Life underwater this year appears to be going just swell for marine mammals along the east coast compared to last year, reports the Zululand Observer.

Only seven animals have so far been discovered stranded on KwaZulu-Natal’s beaches, including two dolphins in Richards Bay and Clansthal Beach, one whale in Kosi Bay and three turtles, according to data from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

Last year the total was a staggering 74.

Most significantly was that 2016 realised the highest number of whale strandings (10) in the history of monitoring the east coast. Coastal watchdogs believe the culprit behind the dramatic increase from a total of 40 animal strandings in 2015 was seismic surveys to find oil and gas deposits.

“Despite requests by government departments and environmental groups to avoid undertaking surveys by petroleum companies during the turtle hatching season (December to end of March), Humpback whale migration (June to November) and sardine run (June to July), seismic surveys were undertaken off the KZN coastline from Durban to Richards Bay from 31 January to 24 July,” said Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Marine Ecologist, Dr Jennifer Olbers.

“Scientists have proven that seismic blasts can interrupt the communication, reproduction, navigation and eating habits essential to the survival of marine life, including whales, dolphins, turtles, fish and plankton.

“But in the worst case, the extreme sound pressure causes blood vessels to rupture and deafness.

“The energy from the blasts also damage eggs, larvae and forces fish and other marine species to temporarily migrate away from the affected area.

“Namibian tuna catches shrank to 650 tonnes in 2013 from 4 046 tonnes in 2011 as a result of the search of oil and gas on the Atlantic coast driving tuna stock from their normal migratory routes.

“Seismic air gun exploration poses an unacceptable risk of serious harm to marine life at the species and population levels, the full extent of which will not be understood until after the harm has occurred.”

In full agreement with Olbers, Coastwatch KZN started a petition challenging a proposal by Petroleum Geo-Services to conduct more 2D and 3D surveys later this year, 15km to 250km offshore from Richards Bay to Mossel Bay.

“These seismic surveys use extremely loud blasts able to penetrate deep into the sea floor for detecting oil deposits and take place every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for months at a time, over large areas.

“In view of the heavy impacts of seismic surveying on our vital ocean ecology, we are urgently requesting that Minister of the DEA [Department of Environmental Affairs], Bomo Edna Molewa, challenge the repeal of S39 and enact regulations specific to stringent mitigation of seismic exploration of our coastline that will prevent the petroleum industry conducting activities during the known breeding and migration periods of cetaceans, fish and turtles.”

Caxton News Service

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