Few sightings as whales head off Kenyan coast

Humpback whales in the waters of the Indian Ocean on the coast. [File,Standard]

As the whale watching season draws to a close, those who expect to see the great creatures of the coast are very disappointed. The humpback whale migration has become a sensation among local and international tourists, especially the Watamu and Malindi areas between July and September.

Female humpback whales travel to Kenyan waters to care for their young. Despite reports of onshore sightings of migrating and breeding whales in 2020, this migration season has disappointed in numbers.

“The numbers are very low and most of the information we got is that the whales have been offshore and not ashore compared to what we saw last year,” says Michael Mwang’ombe of Kenya Marine Mammal Project. Coordinator with Watamu Marine Association.

“In 2020, we made 27 trips and observed 81 humpback whales. However, this year we are on our 9th trip and only saw five humpback whales. We compared the information with the partners we worked with and the reports are the same, which led us to start doing research to see what has changed between 2020 and now, ”he added.

Reports from the Kenya Marine Mammal Network show that humpback whales were first seen in Kenya by fishermen 30 years ago, in a single number during the migration season.

The numbers have steadily increased over the decades due to the ban on whaling since the 1960s. Beginning in 2011, Kenya and the International Whaling Commission recognized the importance of whales to bump, both environmentally and economically, with the rise of the whale watching industry on a global scale.

Mwang’ombe says it is too early to give a full report on what has changed over the past year that has affected whale migration to the Kenyan coast, but adds that they have made an important sighting.

“One interesting thing I saw is that fishermen report that they have seen the whales, but have seen them all offshore. Last year we had a lot of mothers and calves and mothers came to the coast to tend the calves. But this year, reported sightings were of a single whale or two adult male whales. ”

He said that since 2014, they have always seen whales between July and August, but in August of this year, they only saw two from land.

From the creation of the Kenya Marine Mammal Network in May 2011 until December 2019, 1,511 sightings have been reported by 105 different collaborators. Data from the Kenya Marine Mammal Network published in the International Whaling Commission Technical Report 2020 showed that there were 1,406 records of 24 different species of whales and dolphins in Kenya.

The three main species reported between 2011 and 2019 are the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin with 657 records, the humpback whale with 644 records and the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin with 58 records. In 2014, there were 24 humpback whale sightings, 35 in 2015, 66 in 2016, 71 in 2017, 197 in 2018. There was a sharp drop in 2019 with only 35 reports of humpback whale sightings .

Kenya Marine Mammal Network 2020 newsletter reported that the International Whaling Commission had, in its ‘Whale Watching Hand-book 2018’, presented Kenya as a whale watching case study for implementation. good whale watching protocols and an alternative to unsustainable inshore fishing activities.

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