Original Articles

The presence of right whales in summer on the west coast of South Africa: the evidence from historical records


Abstract

Conventionally, southern right whales Eubalaena australis are portrayed as spending the summer on feeding grounds in the Antarctic and the winter on breeding grounds in coastal waters of the southern continents. Historical whaling records challenge this perception in the case of the Cape of Good Hope whaling ground, where substantial catches were made earlier and later in the year as well as in winter. The hypothesis that these might in part represent whales on migration to and from Namibia is examined in this paper through the use of historical evidence, including the journals of two vessels operating in the region under the French flag in the 1788/89 and 1791/92 seasons. An episode of catching in the St Helena Bay/Saldanha Bay area between 1787/88 and 1791/92 that may have accounted for as many as 1 780 whales was followed by a shift of effort to the Walvis Bay ground in Namibia. If this represented local depletion, it would suggest that whales off the Western Cape were from a different population component to those off Namibia.

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