Every year humpback whales migrate thousands of kilometres up the South and East African coast to breed and give birth in the warmer waters of Northern Mozambique. At around 8,000km its the longest mammal migration on earth. 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.

First to arrive are the heavily pregnant females, then the males, non-breeding whales and finally the mothers with last year’s calves

While the platform will act as an important communication hub for scientific researchers from South Africa all the way to Kenya, it’s likely to become better known as the place for whale watch enthusiasts to get the latest on where the whales are, what they are doing, and how best to go and see them.

Surprisingly little is known about the humpbacks that visit Northern Mozambique. 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 and 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 for sure!

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 Madagascar.

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 https://happywhale.com/home asks whale watchers to submit their whale tail photos on line. Whale tails or ‘flukes’ as they are correctly known have markings that are unique to individual whales, a bit like fingerprints are to humans. These photos are 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 migration zone and eventually back to Antartica.

A date for the launch of the South and East African whale migration platform is expected soon. For further information contact pete@ilhablue.com