Whale Survey

Every year in the month of October, the annual Whale Survey is conducted by The Mammal Research Institute run by the University of Pretoria. The aim of the research is to document the number of whales that visit South Africa’s coastline, and to document whether the same whales frequent the coastline in years to come. How they achieve this is by taking photographs of the whales from the air – this is where NAC Makana Helicopters plays a pivotal role.

As South Africa’s coastline is vast, and the whales are only around for approximately 2 – 3 months at a time, the scientists need to document as many whales as possible in a very short window period. Documenting from the air allows far more research to be conducted, as a lot more ground can be covered. This ensures accurate data collection, and provides solutions on how we can protect these majestic gentle giants.

The Whale Survey covers the area from Muizenburg to Nature’s Valley and this stretch of coastline is known as the “Whale Nursery”. Every year, Southern Right Whales and Humpback Whales visit the Cape Coastline to mate, calve and nurture their young in our secluded warm waters, migrating all the way from Antarctica through the months of June to November. The Mammal Research Institute has identified that each whale has a unique blueprint – their head. Just like each human has a unique fingerprint, each whale’s head varies in size, shape, colour and barnacle placement. This enables the scientists to photograph and document the whales who visit our coastline each year and when they return. They also photograph females and their young, and document how many whales are calved in our shallow waters each year, and whether the pattern of calving is increasing or decreasing.

There were a number of complaints last year that the helicopter was disturbing these magnificent creatures. To put these complaints to bed, the helicopter is playing a vital role in helping conserve and protect our whales and this research is vital to their survival. The helicopter flies at a height of 150 meters which is close enough for the researchers to photograph the whales but creates as little disturbance as possible. The experienced pilot does his utmost best to complete the task over each whale as quickly as possible before moving onto the next. The team from the Mammal Research Institute have dedicated most of their lives to the conservation of these animals and have only their best interests at heart. The survey will take place during the first two weeks of October.       
Gary Wilson