Mortalities of right whales and related anthropogenic factors in South African waters, 1963-1998

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Peter B. Best
Victor M. Peddemors
Victor G. Cockcroft
Nan Rice


Between 1963 and 1998, 55 mortalities of southern right whales and a further three ‘possible right whale’ mortalities were recorded on the
South African coastline. Of the known right whale mortalities, 31 could be classified as ‘calves of the year’, 8 as juveniles and 14 as adults.
Relatively few (6.5-16.1%) of the calf mortalities could be attributed to anthropogenic factors, compared to juveniles (25-50%) and adults
(35.7-57.1%). Apparent causes of death included ship strikes (4 definite, 7 possible) and entanglement (4 definite, 1 possible), with one
harpooning incident. Five non-fatal ship strikes and 16 instances of non-fatal entanglement were also recorded. Whilst the gear most
commonly involved in non-fatal entanglement was crayfish trap lines, three of the four entanglement fatalities involved longline gear. The
incidence of scars attributable to previous entanglement remained constant amongst mature females from 1979-1997, at 3-4%. Recorded
mortalities increased over the period 1963-1997 at a rate no different from that of population growth over the same period. The current level
of anthropogenic mortality does not seem to be affecting population recovery.

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