The Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) is South Africa’s most endangered marine mammal with scientists claiming that they are ‘currently documenting extinction’. Over the past three decades, their population has significantly dropped - largely due to human interferences such as accidental drowning in shark nets and coastal expansion. A further blow to this species is the effects of toxic runoff from our polluted rivers around South Africa, leading to additional health challenges and widespread concern about the future of this species in South Africa. The threats they face are caused by humans and this species is dwindling in numbers because of our human impacts on our oceans. We need to act now to save this species. To properly conserve humpback dolphins, we need to better understand their movements, their behaviours, and their threats.
Low numbers of humpback dolphins combined with their shy behaviour means new and innovative methods are needed to find and monitor them. Luckily humpback dolphins (like other dolphin species) speak to each other regularly and repeatedly call out individually distinctive signature whistles, somewhat like a name. This is particularly so for mothers and calves, who constantly need to keep in contact with each other. Scientists at Sea Search are using these whistles to locate humpback dolphins all along our coastline, so we can understand where humpback dolphins are and document individuals’ ranges and habitat use. This involves recording signature whistles on underwater microphones set out all along the coast of South Africa. The information we collect will fill crucial knowledge gaps necessary to protect them with appropriate marine protected areas and government legislation.
This acoustic research also has even wider benefits, as it can tell us about other threats such as: passing ships, boat traffic, underwater noise levels, and the effects of seismic surveys. All of these human activities can considerably disturb whales and dolphins, therefore, investigating them is of added importance. Humpback dolphins are an exclusively coastal species, ranging from False Bay through to the Bay of Bengal, India. Our research takes us throughout their southern African range and requires extensive boat and land based field work, acoustic equipment (like underwater microphones), local collaborations, and large scale simultaneous acoustic deployments.
Your support would help...
- Fund additional acoustic equipment
- Training of collaborators and satellite groups to collect their own acoustic data
- Fund travel and subsistence to in field team members
- Set up meetings and seminars amongst collaborators to share research and recommendations
- Skill development and capacity building in local African students
- Increase the public profile of humpback dolphins through outreach and SciComm.
With your support, our research will fill the important gaps in our knowledge on humpback dolphins needed for policy makers and governments to properly develop adequate protection in our waters. So that, like other endangered species such as the African penguin and white rhino, future generations are able to see these charismatic animals for themselves.
Working together with scientists, legislators, conservationists, and members of our local communities, we can help save humpback dolphins before it’s too late.