White Humpback Whale off Cape Recife

2nd August 2019

White Humpback whale seen off Cape Recife.

On Friday we set off with a boatload of tourists. We saw around 100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins at Coega. At St Croix Island we saw a few penguins that remained after the oil spill disturbance. The guests really wanted to see whales, so we decided to go all the way to Cape Recife in the choppy easterly swell. Just as we were about to give up, Warren shouted that there was a whale 2 miles off the starboard bow. I gunned the engines and headed towards the blow.

It took a long time for the whale to surface and when it did everyone screamed “It is a white whale!” Indeed it was, except for the dark dorsal fin and head. Everything else was white. It was my first sighting of a white humpback whale in 22 years of running Raggy Charters. Immediately I decided to name the whale “Umlungu”, which means white man in Xhosa. It comes from the white foam on the sea which blows ashore after a storm, which is how the first European settlers received this name.

There is a famous white humpback whale in Australia called “Migaloo” which means “white fellow” in some Aboriginal languages. This whale is almost completely white, but is hypo pigmented rather than an albino. They are referred to as leucistic and lack the enzyme that produces pigmentation as opposed to an albino that completely lacks pigmentation. It was first spotted in 1991 off Cape Byron on the East Australian Coast. It is now 33 years old and was recently seen heading back towards the feeding grounds. This is very early for this kind of behaviour and the whale looked in a bad condition. Umlungu is the first humpback whale this season we have seen heading back towards the feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean. Could there be a link?

We had a very successful public meeting on the evils of bunkering on the 1st August, the day the Addo Marine Protected Area came into being. I gave a presentation on marine tourism in Algoa Bay and how badly it will be affected by bunkering. Ronelle Friend gave a hugely informative presentation on bunkering and what an oil spill means for the environment. She was of the opinion that it should be halted until all the correct procedures were in place. For a report on her presentation see HeraldLive

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