The whales are back!

Posted on 14 December 2017

Not just for their annual visit to our shores, but in worldwide numbers.

The happiest news to come out of the recent World Whale Conference in Durban was from ocean expert Prof Ken Findlay of the Centre for Sustainable Oceans at CPUT: after being hunted to the brink of extinction, certain species of the world’s whale population are bouncing back. The number of southern rights, for example, has doubled in just over a decade. He attributes this to the ‘rare paradigm shift in human thinking and behaviour’ achieved by Greenpeace’s anti-whaling campaigns of the 1970s.

Also read: The best whale-watching route to Cape Agulhas

This shift in thinking is also impacting tourism. Last year, some 13 million people worldwide wanted to see marine mammals in the wild instead of at aquariums or theme parks. That’s good news – as long as it’s done responsibly. This was the main topic on the table at the conference, with the aim of creating a set of global standards that protect cetaceans in tourism.

A training course for marine naturalist guides is being designed for worldwide rollout, a WCA Responsible Whale Watching app is now available, and the concept of Whale Heritage Sites around the world is being pursued – places where ‘communities respect and celebrate cetaceans and marine biodiversity through conservation action and cultural activities’.

Durban, which has seen an increase in migratory humpback whale numbers, is positioning itself for whale tourism and plans to have an annual Welcoming of the Whales festival. Humpbacks (pictured) and southern rights are now of ‘least concern’ on the IUCN Red List, but blue whales remain ‘endangered’ – as do several other kinds of cetaceans.


Current whale count

Southern right females left in the world (1930s): less than 500
Southern right whales at the end of the 1990s: about 7500
Number today: almost 15000

Southern hemisphere humpback whales (1970s): less than 2000
Humpback whales today: 50000 – 60000

Blue whales in mid-20th century: almost extinct
Blue whales today: around 10000


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