“We saw five animals moving north-bound around East London towards KwaZulu-Natal… It’s an indication that it’s starting,” the board’s head of operations Mike Anderson-Reade told Sapa on Thursday.
He believed the whales would arrive on the province’s coastline early in June, and that the migration would peak at the end of June and early July.
“We had a report of one off the coast of KZN, but it’s unconfirmed. It’s also still a bit early.”
Anderson-Reade said he would fly out to sea, possibly next Thursday depending on the weather, to look for whale activity.
“I want to take advantage of the good weather. Once we see activity, the flights will be on a weekly basis.”
Humpback whales leave their feeding grounds in Antarctica to migrate to warmer waters to mate and give birth every year. They leave the icy waters for the east coast of South Africa and Mozambique and arrive around May.
Pregnant females give birth in warm waters and nurture their calves for a few months before leaving the area.
According to the oceania.org website this is because at birth humpback whale calves have little body fat and will not survive in the icy waters of the Antarctic.
Previously, Anderson-Reade explained that the calves grow up off the country’s coastline before going back to Antarctica.
“They leave our waters around October, November, and December,” he said in 2012, when the migration began in April, one month earlier.
At the time, he said with the increase in the number of humpback whales in “our waters”, it was inevitable that their mortality rate would increase naturally and through other causes. These included being hit by ships or killed by sharks.
Whale carcasses attract sharks and sometimes drift close to shore, becoming a threat to bathers and surfers.