Every year Humpback Whales migrate thousands of kilometers up the East African coast to breed and give birth in the warmer waters of Northern Mozambique. And now a group of marine scientists, tourism operators, conservationists, local communities and government agencies is collaborating to develop an online platform to chart their progress and share the news with whale enthusiasts everywhere.
While the platform will act as an important communication hub for scientific researchers from South Africa all the way to Kenya, its likely to become better known as the place for whale watch enthusiasts to get the latest on where the migrating whales are, what they are doing and how best to go and see them.
Surprisingly little is known about the humpbacks that visit the Western Indian Ocean. For example, are these the same whales that visit Madagascar, Mauritius and other Indian Ocean islands? Do they visit several of these locations in one migration or is it one year Madagascar, the next year Tanzania? And how far north do they travel? Some suggest they migrate all the way up to Somalia and perhaps even interact with the humpback population that lives all year round in the Arabian Sea. Nobody really knows!
Answers to these and many more questions are expected once information starts to filter through from Cape Town, Durban and Mozambican observers in Ponte D’Ouro, Tofo, Ilha De Mozambique and Ibo. This information will be shared with researchers in Tanzania who are ready with a network of acoustic recorders deployed along the mainland coast, and other observers in Kenyan and even further north.
There’s also opportunity for the public to make an important contribution to this research through the various Citizen Science projects being hosted along the migration route. One of these projects, Happy Whale, asks whale watchers to submit their whale photos on line. These are then processed using cutting-edge image algorithms to match new whale sightings with photos already stored in scientific collections so that individual animals can be identified and tracked. A bonus for people submitting photos is that Happy whale will give you immediate feedback on any matches and keep you updated on all future sightings of ‘your whale’ as it moves around the globe.
A date has yet to be set for the launch of the East African whale migration platform.