Mossel Bay’s new whale watching wheelsMarch 12th, 2012 by Susan Reynard | Categories: environmental, hotels, industry, social, tourism
The Garden Route Casino Community Trust has sponsored a vehicle to transport researchers working on the Mossel Bay Cetacean Project. In its third year, the project has revealed Mossel Bay – and its neighbour to the west, Vlees Bay – as important whale watching destinations.
The Project is managed by M.Sc. student Bridget James on behalf of Oceans Research, based in Mossel Bay, and the Mammal Research Institute of the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the University of Pretoria. It is now in the second phase of its investigation into the behaviour and distribution of whales and dolphins in the Mossel Bay area.
James says she was introduced to the Trust by the Mossel Bay Environmental Partnership’s Fred Orban, who also owns Sandpiper Cottages, which sponsors a monthly research trip to Vlees Bay.
Mossel Bay Tourism’s Marcia Holm says that the Cetacean Project is very important for the town’s tourism economy. “Bridget and her colleagues have placed the town firmly on the map by highlighting the presence of marine mammals in significant numbers, and this is helping us to position Mossel Bay as a prime environmental destination.
“This is the only area in the Western Cape where you can see the Big Five in a free-ranging environment, and, if you’re lucky, also spot sharks, whales and dolphins – as well as dozens of species of birds and other mammals – in the space of a single day,” she adds.
James thanked the Garden Route Casino Community Trust for their contribution to her project. “The enthusiastic support of local businesspeople and organisations like the Trust make it so much easier for us to undertake such expensive, in-depth studies of the local environment,” she said.
James and her team spend up to four days a week observing marine mammals from the shore, and plotting their positions using surveyor’s theodolites.
“We drive to the various survey sites in Vlees Bay, and between the sites situated along the coast between the St. Blaize Lighthouse and Great Brak River, so the car is vitally important to us,” she adds.
Her team usually includes four international or local students who are enrolled in the Oceans Research internship program. “International students come to us from various institutions in countries like the United States, Germany, Australia, Canada and Singapore. This year we’ve been focussing on collecting data to determine the influence of human impacts on the movement, use of space and behaviour of the whales and dolphins between Mossel Bay – which is influenced by many human factors like ships, boats and industry – and Vlees Bay, which has virtually no human impact.
“I’m currently coming to the end of the data collection period of my work, and I’ll soon be focusing on writing up the data in a thesis – but the Project is a long term monitoring activity, but the daily land surveys will continue as usual.”
She hopes to have some answers later in the year regarding the habitats and area usage of the near-threatened humpback dolphins in Mossel Bay. The team has seen a number of humpback and bottlenose dolphins during the past month. “No whales, though; but at this time of year one could potentially see Bryde’s whales – and with the onset of autumn, I would hope to see an increased presence of both dolphin species, and hopefully a few of those elusive Bryde’s whales, too.”
James posts her field research on a blog, and in time will add published scientific journals as her thesis progresses.
For more information go to www.oceans-initiative.com, www.oceans-research.com and www.visitmosselbay.co.za.
In the image above are (from left): Clr. Harry Levendal (deputy mayor of Mossel Bay and trustee of the Garden Route Casino Community Trust), Bridget James and the Mossel Bay Environmental Partnership’s Fred Orban with Mossel Bay’s newly branded whale watching car.