Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife,
South African Association for Marine Biological Research (uShaka Sea World),
Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife,
Transnet National Ports Authority,
Specialised Rescue Unit (Ballito),
East London Museum.
Annual Marine Strandings Report for KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: 2016
Prepared on behalf of the KZN Strandings Network
Dr Jennifer M. Olbers
With contributions from:
, Santosh Bachoo
, Scotty Kyle
, Basil Pather
, Caroline Fox
, Chantal Dickson
, Enock Mhlangu
, Frans Mtembu
, Geremy Cliff
, James Wood
, Julia Browne
, Kevin Cole
, Kevin Green
, Lionel van Schoor
, Mary Basson
, Sabine Wintner
, Sam Ndlovu
, Shaleen Bikka
, Siboniso Duma
, Simon Chater
, Siraj Paruk
, Sue-Anne Schutte
, Tracy Shaw
, Trueman Buthelezi
and Wayne Harrison
A total of 74 stranded animals were reported on the beaches of KZN during 2016. The majority of animals were birds (42)
and whales (10), followed by nine turtles, eight dolphins and five seals. No whale sharks were reported. Twenty three
animals stranded alive, 31 stranding alive but subsequently died and 20 animals were reported dead when found. The
majority of strandings occurred in the Durban area (18), followed by Ballito (8) and Scottburgh (7). No strandings were
reported in the Tugela area or from Maphelane. Twenty one animals were released after rehabilitation, the majority
being turtles (9) and birds (10) with two seals also being released. Some noteworthy strandings occurring in 2016
included a mass stranding in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a King Penguin at St Lucia and a Cape clawless otter. Concerns
around the seismic surveys on the KZN coast during the whale migration are also raised.
Olbers, JM. 2017. Marine strandings: 2016 Annual Report for KwaZulu-Natal. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Internal Report,
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. 34pp.
KZN STRANDING NETWORK
The KZN Stranding Network was officially formed in the 1990’s but, with change in staff at various institutions, it began
to function on an ad hoc basis becoming virtually non-functional in the early 2000’s. In 2008, it was resurrected and
various additional institutions became involved. The network is run on the goodwill of staff from organisations and
institutions and no formal funding is obtained. The following institutions / organisations, in no particular order, are
• Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (Ezemvelo).
• South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), including uShaka Sea World.
• KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board and Maritime Centre of Excellence.
• Centre for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW).
• Second Chance Avian Rescue (SCAR).
• Specialised Rescue Unit – Ballito.
• Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA).
• Ethekwini Municipality
• Hibiscus Coast Municipality.
• Umdoni Municipality.
• Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA).
• Coastwatch KZN.
• National Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).
• Transnet Ports Authority (Durban).
• National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).
• Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
• Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).
• Port Elizabeth Museum.
This annual report is aimed at summarising the data obtained during 2016 for all marine stranded animals along the KZN
coastline including dolphins, whales, turtles, seals and coastal birds. Data is collected via Ezemvelo datasheets,
newspaper reports, uShaka Sea World reports, CROW (Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife) reports, Second Chance
Avian Rescue (SCAR) reports, KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board reports and information from the public. The data are housed
at Ezemvelo Morningside office in a relational database and can be accessed upon request.
The photographs in this report are from a variety of sources, which are often unknown or unclear. Up to now, these
photos are sent to Ezemvelo Scientific Services staff with the proviso that they can be used for the purposes of this
report and awareness material.
Table of Contents
BACKGROUND ............................................................................................................................................. 4
Types of strandings .................................................................................................................................. 4
Cause/s of strandings ............................................................................................................................... 4
Natural factors (from national response plan as edited by Ken Findlay) .................................................... 4
Anthropogenic factors (from national response plan as edited by Ken Findlay) ........................................ 5
Collection of samples ............................................................................................................................... 5
RESULTS ...................................................................................................................................................... 6
INDIVIDUAL STRANDING REPORTS ............................................................................................................ 10
RELEASED ANIMALS .................................................................................................................................. 26
SOME NOTEWORTHY ISSUES, TOPICS, ACTIVITIES AND STRANDINGS ....................................................... 28
Seismic surveys on the KZN coast – the elephant in the room ................................................................ 28
A beaked-whale with puzzling injuries .................................................................................................... 29
King penguin – a long way from home .................................................................................................... 29
African clawless otter ............................................................................................................................. 30
KZN’s first mass stranding ...................................................................................................................... 30
Leatherback turtle buried when embankment collapses (by Santosh Bachoo) ........................................ 31
KZN authorities burn its first whale as a carcass disposal method ........................................................... 33
Guidelines for the disposal of whales and whale shark carcasses for the KZN coast ................................ 34
RECOMMENDATIONS ................................................................................................................................ 34
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ............................................................................................................................. 34
The South African coastline is subjected to unique oceanographic and environmental parameters, resulting in a highly
diverse assemblage of whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles, birds and seals which are prone to stranding. Stranding is
generally defined as an animal being out of its element, and being unable to return to its habitat on its own.
In addition to animals stranding on an ad hoc basis, the sardine run and winter whale migration inevitably increase the
possibility of strandings during winter in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). As the sardines arrive, so do the associated predators
which include seals, dolphins, birds and sharks. Often the animals that are found on the beaches are either exhausted,
dehydrated or their stomachs are full of too many partially digested sardines.
Types of strandings
Strandings are classified into four categories:
• Type 0: when animals are observed prior to stranding, this type can progress to Type 1 or 2 (sometimes can be
• Type 1: animals strand singly, sometimes as cow-calf pairs;
• Type 2: animals stranding groups of 3 or more; termed mass stranding events; and
• Type 3: mass die off or episodic mortality events, where several animals may strand over an extended period of
time and space. It is often the case that these animals wash ashore after dying at sea, while some may be found
Cause/s of strandings
Strandings and the causes of these events have perplexed man for centuries with the first strandings being recorded in
century. It is the general opinion that there is no single cause of strandings. Some areas in South Africa have
experienced more than one mass stranding event, including St. Helena Bay, Buffels Bay and Kommetjie. Almost half of
the 22 recorded mass stranding events since 1928 have occurred in these areas (Findlay pers. comm.).
There remains uncertainty as to why marine animals strand. Below are some of the accepted theories that may
separately or in combination with other parameters, contribute to a stranding event:
Natural factors (from national response plan as edited by Ken Findlay)
Social cohesive nature of odontocetes - Toothed whales form highly social groups, often in numbers exceeding one
hundred. It is believed that if one animal (leader or key whale) in the group is sick or injured and enters shallow
water to strand, the remaining group members will follow the sick animal in response to distress calls and also
Disease or parasitic infection – Most animals carry a number of external and internal parasites. However, when parasite
numbers exceed normal levels (varies per species), this may affect the animal’s health, feeding and navigational
Coastal topography – Toothed whales that use echo-location to detect and navigate sea floor topography may be misled
by a gently sloping ocean floor of a shallow bay (e.g. Doctors Reef in St. Helena Bay). A gentle slope will deflect,
rather than reflect echolocation pulses, leading the animals to believe they are in deeper water. Many stranding ‘hot
spots’ around the world are characterised by a gently sloping, shallow bay.
Anomalies in the Earth’s magnetic field – It has been proposed that some species navigate using the Earth’s magnetic
field. Cetacean mass stranding events in certain regions of the world have been linked to geomagnetic anomalies
which occur when local magnetic fields shift during sun spot activity.
Abandoned neonates and malnourished juveniles – Abandoned neonates are particularly common in Southern right
whales and some coastal dolphin species. Malnourished humpback whale juveniles are also known to strand,
probably as a result of inability to forage independently or the death of the mother.
Severe oceanographic and weather conditions – Animals may come ashore following a severe storm due to extreme
wind and oceanographic conditions.
Predatory interactions – Animals may congregate or be herded close to shore in response to threats from predators. This
may lead to distress and confusion in the shallower water and result in animals stranding. Furthermore, animals may
strand with injuries sustained from predation (e.g. pectoral fins or tail flukes missing from shark or killer whale
attacks). Alternatively, animals may follow their prey inshore or up onto the beach, becoming stranded.
Natural toxins – Animals may strand in response to natural toxins such as algal blooms.
Anthropogenic factors (from national response plan as edited by Ken Findlay)
Noise interference – Anthropogenic ocean noise arises from vessel traffic, seismic surveying, oil and gas exploration and
military operations using low and mid-frequency sonar. Noise is believed to impact upon the behaviour, perceptions
and physiology of marine animals, in particular cetacean species that rely on evolutionary adaptations to use
acoustics for navigation, avoidance of predators, foraging for food and reproduction. Deep diving beaked whale
species may be particularly susceptible to anthropogenic ocean noise, and mass strandings of Cuvier’s beaked
whales around the world have been linked to anthropogenic noise (in some of these cases, animals have shown
decompression sickness like symptoms suggesting behavioural or physiological impacts).
Toxins – Anthropogenic toxins (such as mercury or persistent organic pollutants from fertilisers and other man-made
products) present in the ocean may result in animals becoming poisoned and stranding due to poor health or death.
Sustained injury – Many animals wash up on the beach, either dead or in poor condition, as a result of anthropogenic
injury, such as those from ship strikes, propeller cuts and entanglements in fishing gear. Furthermore, animals may
strand as a direct result of entanglement in gear or discarded material.
Collection of samples
Ezemvelo occasionally collects samples for a variety of research institutions, including the Mammal Research Institute
(University of Pretoria), Oceans and Coast (Department of Environmental Affairs) and Bay World. Samples collected
generally include skin and blubber used for DNA and heavy metal analysis and occasionally a skull. Samples to evaluate
the health of animals are logistically more complicated to collect, i.e. internal organs and skeletal structures.
In the past, Ezemvelo staff collecting samples from carcasses on the beach led to confrontations and were generally
frowned upon by the public. Similarly, dissecting animals in front of the public is not always feasible given the human
emotional attachment to marine mammals.
The number of strandings increased from 40 in 2015 to 74 in 2016. Since 2008, a total of 412 Type 1 (individual)
stranding incidents have been recorded in KZN, with a single Type 2 (mass stranding) incident, which occurred in
iSimangaliso, during 2016. All animal groups except whale sharks were recorded during 2016. Figure 1 shows the
number of stranding incidents occurring between 2008 and 2016. The stranding network was fully implemented in KZN
in 2008, and although there was initially an increase in the number of strandings as a result of improved reporting, the
data sources appear to be stabilising over time. Bird data from CROW were included in the database from 2011 and
from SCAR from 2016. Figure 2 shows the total number of strandings from 1995 and the respective animal groups.
Figure 1. Number of stranded animals recorded along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline from 2008 to 2016.
Figure 2. Number of individuals in each animal group which have been reported annually since 1995. Bird data from CROW and SCAR
were included from 2011 and 2016, respectively.
YEAR (NUMBER OF INCIDENTS)
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Figure 3 shows the number of animals in each category/group which stranded in 2016. The birds (42 individuals) made
up the majority of strandings followed by the whales (10 individuals), turtles (9 individuals), dolphins (8 individuals) and
seals (5 individuals). Twelve Swift terns (Thalasseus bergii), 10 Cape gannets (Morus capensis), three African penguins
(Spheniscus demersus), three Kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus), two common terns (Sterna hirundo), three Cory’s
shearwaters (Calonectris borealis), two Great-winged petrels (Pterodroma macroptera), two Sooty terns (Onychoprion
fuscatus), one African black oyster catcher (Haematopus moquini), one Cape cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis), one
Indian yellow nosed albatross (Thalassarche carteri), one King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) and one unidentified
bird accounted for the stranded birds. Four Green turtles (Chelonia mydas), two Hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata),
two Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) and one Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) were reported. Six Humpback
whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), three Pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) and one unknown species of whale
were reported. One Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), one Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus), one
Humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis), two Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) and one unidentified dolphin species
were recorded. Two Subantarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus tropicalis) and two South African fur seal (Arctocephalus
pusillus) were recorded, while the first record in KZN of a Kerguelen / Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) was also
Figure 3. Percentage of stranded animal groups along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline in 2016. Numbers in brackets represent number of
individuals for each group.
Figure 4 and 5 show the ratio and status of animals as they came ashore. Twenty three animals were alive (31.1 %) when
discovered while 31 animals subsequently died (41.9 %) for various reasons, i.e. stress, sickness, heat stroke, euthanasia
or ill-timed rescue. In 2016, there was a high number of birds (27) that were unsuccessfully rehabilitated and thus were
euthanised or died, while the number of live dolphins (3) which came ashore and then died was also higher than in
previous years. There was a high success rate of survival in the turtles (6) and seals (4) with a moderate success rate of
bird (12) rehabilitation. Twenty animals were found dead (27.0%) and no whales were reported to have stranded alive
In general, animals with a life history stage occurring on land (birds, seals & turtles) tend to survive better than those
animals that don’t (dolphins, whales & whale sharks). In many cases, animals that are found alive generally strand
because they are fatigued, sick, injured or in the case during the sardine run, fatigued from full stomachs. In addition,
larger animals that are not adapted to land are susceptible to organ crushing when their full weight has no means of
buoyancy. Therefore, when a cetacean or whale comes ashore, their bodies begin to degenerate due to the excessive
pressure on their organs. This, together with stress, is a key concern when rescue, rehabilitation or refloatation attempts
are considered. For example, a key element to the survival of a Whale Shark is the time taken for a rescue attempt to
take place. In the case of birds, the long range species do not rehabilitate well or easily. It is hypothesized that their
bodies cannot be confined for long periods of time and require flight.
Figure 4. Comparison of stranded animals that were found alive, dead and subsequently died along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline in
Figure 5. Ratio of animals found dead, alive or subsequently dead (including being euthanised) within each animal group, recorded
along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline in 2016. Number in brackets indicate number of individuals.
Dead - Birds (n=3)
Live - Birds (n=12)
Subs. Died - Birds (n=27)
Dead - Dolphins (n=4)
Live - Dolphins (n=1)
Subs. Died - Dolphin (n=3)
Dead - Seals (n=0)
Live - Seals (n=4)
Subs. died - Seals (n=1)
Dead - Whales (n=10)
Live - Whales (n=0)
Subs. died - Whales (n=0)
Dead - Turtles (n=3)
Live - Turtles (n=6)
Subs. died - Turtles (n=0)
Figure 6 show the stranding incidences along the KZN coast according to the Ezemvelo marine compliance zones. The
majority of incidents were reported in the Durban area but this is usually due to the high concentration of people within
the coastal zone, i.e. more people to report stranded animals and more organisations to deal with the reports. Stranded
birds (with the exception of the penguins) are dealt with by CROW (Durban) and SCAR (Shelley beach), which may also
contribute to the bias in the number of birds recorded on the KZN south coast.
In the past, most turtles were reported from iSimangaliso but in recent years, most of the turtle strandings have
occurred along the KZN south coast. This may be due to lack of staff and beach patrols in iSimangaliso. All groups were
recorded across the province, including penguins and seals, which are generally cooler water species, in iSimangaliso. No
strandings were reported from Maphelane and Tugela.
Figure 6. Spread and number of reported strandings within the Ezemvelo marine compliance zones during 2016 along the KZN coast.
Maputaland Marine Protected Area
St Lucia Marine Reserve - North
St Lucia Marine Reserve - South
St Lucia - Estuary
Richards Bay North
Richards Bay South
EZEMVELO MARINE COMPLIANCE ZONES
Birds Dolphins Whales Seals Turtles
INDIVIDUAL STRANDING REPORTS
Summary of stranding incidents which occurred during 2016 along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. Sub. died = died after discovery, rescue or rehabilitation
Found emaciated, died.
St Lucia, Look out
Found in the dunes, breathing very heavily. Very far
out of distribution range. Died.
Found to be thin and weak; taken to CROW;
Six hatchlings found walking up the beach in wrong direction; take
to Sea World by member
of public. Released on 15 February 2016, 12km offshore of Durban.
Found to be thin, taken to CROW; died same night.
One hatchling found walking up the beach in wrong direction; take to Sea World by member of
public. Released on 15 February 2016, 12km offshore of Durban. Most likely from same nest as
reported on 12 February 2016.
Found with half a wing, taken to CROW;
Found to be emaciated; taken to SCAR; died.
Found to be exhausted, taken to SCAR; animal dewormed, given a good diet and supplements,
waterproofed, ringed, measured and released. Mature.
Found to be weak and thin; taken to CROW; euthanised.
Found to be weak and thin; taken to CROW; euthanised.
Found to be emaciated; taken to SCAR; given a good diet and supplements, waterproofed,
ringed, measured and released. Immature.
Animal rehabilitated by CROW, and sent to SCAR to be released from boat. Ringed, measured
Found to be dehydrated and thin. Taken to CROW; released from Bluff Beach.
Found by member of the public, taken to Sea World, released 20km offshore; ringed (number:
Found to be emaciated; taken to CROW; died.
Taken into Sea World. Died 5 April 2016.
Found to be exhausted, taken to SCAR; animal dewormed, given a good diet and supplements,
waterproofed, ringed, measured and released. Weight at release: 547g.
Found to be
emaciated; taken to SCAR, admission weight: 68g; died.
Found to be
emaciated; taken to SCAR, admission weight: 61g; died.
Found with wounds (propeller or shark), male, mature.
Found with hook in mouth and septic; taken to CROW;
Mpenjati. Initially was thought to be two seals. One at Illovo
, and the other at
Winkelspruit. Male, mature and appeared healthy.
Found to be resting, left on beach; male, mature.
; animal reported to be sluggish at first, but started swimming strongly;
be weak, taken to Sea World
; tagged and released.
Found to be
emaciated, taken to SCAR; died.
Found to have s
; taken to CROW;
Cape Vidal, Leven
Found to have old wound on wing;
healthy; taken to Sea World.
Animal reported to Ezemvelo, had been eaten by staff in Ballito housing estate. Bones
retrieved and handed over to Ezemvelo.
Found to be caught in fishing line, taken to CROW; released.
Rescued under pier by Sea World;
ied 6 August 2016.
Rescued by member of public
; taken to Sea World; d
ied 27 July 2016.
Pieces of unknown whale carcass washed up on beach.
Infected wound on chest, most likely from unprofessional removal of fishing
; taken to
SCAR, admission weight 30g; died.
4m in length; male.
Found dead on beach. Reported by KZN Sharks Board.
caught in fishing line, taken to CROW, released off Bluff beach.
Found being refloated by public, animal sluggish and unable to sw
im. Minor scratches from
rocks; male; adult; animal soon died after being placed on beach. Taken to KZN Sharks Board
for PE Museum.
Found dead on beach, minor scavenger bites to flukes; male,
arvested by local
Cape Vidal, Leven
under nourished; died soon after arrival at Sea
Taken to Sea World. Died 22 Aug 2016.
Black oyster catcher
Found entangled in fishing
with three hooks in feet; dewormed, basic wound care, given a
good diet and supplements, waterproofed, ringed, measured and released; admission weight
350g; release weight 504g.
South Pier, Richards
Animal found dead. Measured,
Taken to Sea World. Died 28 Aug 2016.
Durban Boat Club
Found to have
; taken to CROW;
Animal couldn't swim; fisherman attempted to refloat; info obtained from media report; died.
Found to be thin and weak; NE wind had been blowing for 3 days; possible eye infection;
juvenile, taken to Sea World.
Partially decomposed, possibly same animal from Cuttings Beach on 12 Sept 2016; mature.
Found dead, partially harvested; adult.
Found to be dehydrated and emaciated, injured wing; juvenile. Taken to CROW.
Refloated by public and
KZN Sharks Board
; both jaws broken; male
Richards Bay Harbour
Length 4.4m; juvenile; male.
Taken to CROW, back broken;
Partially decomposed; hind flipper
missing, length 0.5m; male; mature.
Dead upon stranding; carried away by tide on first evening, washed up 5km north of Cape
Vidal following day; taken by tide that night. Whereabouts unknown; length 15m; mature.
Found with broken wing, taken to CROW;
Animal found resting on beach, appeared tired; chased back into water by public; animal later
came out at Elysium beach, left over night, and returned to water by sunrise following day;
Found to be severely emaciated; juvenile;
taken to SCAR;
Animal buried above the high water mark; broken leg, wingspan 1.6m.
Appeared to be
sick, taken to Sea World; female; juvenile; curved carapace length 48cm.
, length 14m.
Found with broken wing, taken to CROW;
Animal burned; length 6m;
Mass Stranding: 3 animals: 2 adults, 1 calf; all
appeared healthy; head of female
, skin and
teeth samples from adults retained. Head stored at KZN Sharks Board for Port Elizabeth
Found dead on beach by KZN Sharks Board; mature.
member of the
Taken to Sea World.
Found to be headless;
Found with fishing hook in mouth, taken to CROW; released from Bluff Beach.
ut free from fishing net
ZA0438C); animal injured, curve
carapace length 79cm; released.
La Lucia Beach
Found to have spinal damage; taken to CROW;
In 2016, 21 animals were released after rehabilitation (Table 2). Seven leatherback hatchings which presumably had
emerged from the same nest on Anstey’s Beach were taken to Sea World on two separate occasions. These were
released three and four days respectively after arrival at Sea World. In addition, Sea World released two adult / subadult
turtles and a Shearwater.
CROW released six birds while SCAR released four, most of the birds were suffering from fishing gut related injuries. One
seal was released and one Subantarctic seal was relocated to Mpenjati. The longest duration an animal was in captivity
was 498 days (Loggerhead turtle) and 164 days (Kerguelen / Antarctic fur seal). In many cases, seals do not need
rehabilitation as they generally come ashore due to fatigue. Provided they are able to rest out of public reach they
usually return to the water in their own time. If an animal is on a public beach and human interaction is a potential risk,
the animal may be relocated to a more secluded beach by Ezemvelo.
Dolphins and whales are not amenable to rehabilitation and this practice is not encouraged by Ezemvelo, especially in
the case of neonates and juveniles. Sea World, CROW and SCAR have had a high success rate in the rehabilitation of
turtles and birds, respectively.
Currently, there is no formal release policy for marine animals in South Africa. However, any releases within iSimangaliso
Wetland Park require a permit from the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority while Threatened or Protected Species
(ToPS) require a health assessment by a registered veterinarian and the release is reported to Ezemvelo who maintains
release records and reports to the Department of Environmental Affairs. Release information is also recorded in the
Table 2. Stranded animals released in 2016 by rehabilitation facilities or organisations in KZN.
Stranded Location Found Location
2015/04/03 uShaka Beach Off Richards Bay Loggerhead
turtle 2016/09/13 Sea World Member of public removed from beach while being preyed upon by birds. Many
barnacles on shell when found. 498
2016/02/12 Anstey’s Beach Off Durban,
turtle 2016/02/16 Sea World Six hatchlings found walking up the beach, in wrong direction, collected by
member of the public, taken to Sea World. 4
2016/02/13 Anstey’s Beach Off Durban,
turtle 2016/02/16 Sea World
Hatchling found walking up the beach, in wrong direction, collected by member
of the public, taken to Sea World. Most probably part of the nest that hatched
the previous day.
2016/03/12 Mtwalume Unknown Cory's
shearwater 2016/04/13 CROW Animal found to be lethargic; dewormed, given supplements, waterproofed,
ringed, measured and released. Mature. 31
2016/03/22 Pumula Unknown Cape gannet 2016/04/13 SCAR Animal emaciated upon arrival. Rehabilitated by CROW, and sent to SCAR to be
released from boat. Ringed and measured. Immature. 22
Cape gannet 2016/04/13 SCAR
Animal rehabilitated by CROW, sent to SCAR to be
released from boat. Ringed
2016/03/28 Richards Bay Bluff, Durban Swift tern 2016/06/04 CROW Dehydrated and thin. 7
2016/03/31 Unknown Off Durban Shearwater 2016/04/21 Sea World
Found by member of the public, taken to Sea World, released
ringed (number: 5H 48908).
2016/04/05 Unknown Unknown Cory's
shearwater 2016/04/13 SCAR &
Animal dewormed, dewormed; waterproofed; ringed; measured and released.
Weight 547g. 8
2016/05/05 Illovo Mpenjati
2016/05/05 Ezemvelo Healthy mature male, relocated to Mpenjati. 0
2016/06/14 Umtamvuna Off Port
2016/11/30 Sea World Rehabilitated by Sea World, tagged and released off Port Elizabeth. Species has
never been recorded in KZN. 164
2016/08/02 Brighton Beach Bluff, Durban Swift tern 2016/10/08 CROW Caught in fishing gut. 25
2016/08/19 Pennington Unknown Black oyster
catcher 2016/08/31 SCAR
Entangled in fishing gut and three hooks in foot. Animal dewormed, basic
wound care, given a good diet and supplements, waterproofed, ringed,
measured. Release weight 504g.
2016/07/23 Amanzimtoti Bluff, Durban Swift tern 2016/10/08 CROW Caught in fishing gut. 46
2016/11/19 Brighton Beach Bluff, Durban Swift tern 2016/11/30 CROW Found with fishing hook in mouth. 11
2016/12/30 Mabibi Mabibi Hawksbill
turtle 2016/12/30 Ezemvelo Rescued by Ezemvelo turtle monitors who cut the animal free from fishing net;
mature; tagged on right flipper (ZA0438C). Wounded but released. 0
28 | P a g e
SOME NOTEWORTHY ISSUES, TOPICS, ACTIVITIES AND STRANDINGS
Seismic surveys on the KZN coast – the elephant in the room
In South Africa, it has never unequivocally been proven that seismic surveys result in stranded animals. However,
seismic surveys which took place into the whale migration on the east coast in 2016, simply cannot be ignored.
Despite requests by government departments and environmental groups to avoid undertaking seismic surveys by
petroleum companies during the turtle hatching season (December to end of March), humpback whale migration
(June to November) and the sardine run (June to July), seismic surveys were undertaken off the KZN coastline
(Durban to Richards Bay) from 31 January to 24 July.
Scientists have proven that seismic blasts can interrupt the communication, reproduction, navigation and eating
habits essential to the survival of marine life, including whales, dolphins, turtles, fish and even plankton. In the best
case, marine mammals manage to escape from the noise in time. But in the worst case, the extreme sound pressure
causes blood vessels to rupture and deafness. In addition, marine animals panic, surface too fast and die from
decompression sickness or haemorrhaging. The energy from the blasts also damage eggs, larvae and force fish and
other marine species to temporarily migrate away from the affected area. Namibian tuna catch shrank to 650 tonnes
in 2013 from 4,046 tonnes in 2011, as a result of the search for oil and gas on the Atlantic coast driving tuna stock
from their normal migratory routes. Studies show that fish catch rates are significantly lowered by noise from air
guns indicating that increasing levels of human-produced noise in the ocean can significantly and adversely impact
the food supply, employment and economies of many nations. Seismic airgun exploration poses an unacceptable risk
of serious harm to marine life at the species and population levels, the full extent of which will not be understood
until long after the harm has occurred.
Currently there is no requirement to do an impact assessment prior to the issue of a Reconnaissance Permit. The
Section 39 of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act that demanded environmental authorisation
has been repealed and the National Environmental Management Act has not listed reconnaissance as an identified
activity. Therefore, reconnaissance as a mining activity is in legal limbo with only the industry itself, via Petroleum
Agency SA, regulating activities. Ordinarily, any activity that may have a detrimental effect on the environment
would require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and/or Environmental Management Plan (EMP) and
approval from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), however the Department of Mineral Resources no
longer require the DEA to give recommendations or place mitigatory measures to reduce environmental impacts.
Thus, effectively giving the go-ahead to undertake seismic surveys regardless of the harmful effects to the
Companies are still requested by the Petroleum Association of SA to undertake an EMP as a ‘nice to have’ and in it,
the consultants acknowledge that these seismic surveys could potentially injure or kill whales, dolphins, turtles,
seals, seabirds, crustaceans and further impact the already depleted fish stocks. These EMP’s quote a low risk rating
for various animal groups, except for a medium risk for whales. These ratings are not based on scientific research in
South African waters and fauna, but are a gut feel, with cumulative effects on all these groups, not being considered
as an ecological collective. The cascading effects of causing harm to one group will inevitably cause harm to all
groups and could prove immensely and profoundly detrimental to the general marine environment.
2016 recorded the highest number of whale strandings in the history of the east coast of South Africa and in
response to that, Coastwatch KZN appealed to the DEA Minister to legally challenge the repeal of Sections 38 and 39
of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act. The petition is available to be signed at:
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A beaked-whale with puzzling injuries
On 19 October 2016, a female Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) was reported to have stranded on the
Eastern Cape coast, in the vicinity of Winterstrand. The concern in the report by Kevin Cole (East London Museum)
was that these whales are deep divers and are prone to fatal decompression sickness when returning from the deep
too rapidly. Although decomposed, this animal presented with intestinal tissue from the mouth with evidence of
King penguin – a long way from home
On 22 January 2016, a King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) was found on St. Lucia beach by Ezemvelo KZN
Wildlife. The animal was caught and stabilised by the Ezemvelo veterinarian, but died in transit to Sea World that
evening. Post mortem results indicated the animal died of heat stress.
These animals are found in the south Atlantic and breed on Subantarctic islands at the northern reaches
of Antarctica, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. The non-breeding range of these birds is poorly known but
vagrant birds have been recorded in the Antarctic Peninsula, on Cape coast of South Africa, Australia and New
Zealand. How this animal found itself as far north as St Lucia is unknown but it may have been discarded from a
vessel heading north. These animals are not able to withstand subtropical or warm temperate climates. January
2016 was also a particularly hot summer for the region.
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African clawless otter (Aonyx capensis)
On 18 May 2016, a dead seal was reported on the banks of the little Amanzimtoti by the KZN Sharks board but the
staff were not convinced it was a seal so sent pictures to the PE Museum and the University of Pretoria for
verification. It was found to be an African or Cape Clawless Otter. These otters are known to live in areas
surrounding permanent bodies of water, usually surrounded by foliage. They have been observed scavenging along
beaches and rocks while also hunting in shallow surf for mullet in the False Bay area of the Western Cape.
The carcass was couriered to Dr Trevor McIntyre at the Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria to be used
in a project on otters and to be eventually accessioned and housed in the National Museum of Natural History (old
KZN’s first mass stranding
A mass stranding (by definition) occurred at Red Sands in iSimangaliso Wetland Park on 26 October 2016. Three Pilot
whales, a male, female and a calf washed ashore. Allegedly, some fishermen witnessed them washing ashore and
attempted to refloat the animals. Sadly, the animals were too large to get back into the water. This incident was only
reported two days later to authorities. Ezemvelo investigated and found three animals on the beach. A few days
later, Ezemvelo’s Scientific Services with the assistance of the Sodwana Bay Field rangers, collected samples from the
two adults but the calf was missing, presumed to have been harvested or washed back into the sea. The head of the
female was collected for the Port Elizabeth Museum, which was stored by the KZN Sharks Board in Richards Bay. The
weight of the head was approximately 150kg.
Historically, no mass strandings have been reported for KZN and this particular event should be taken as a warning
to authorities that an offshore activity may have driven these animals ashore. It is unfortunate that this event did not
reach the media or at least spark a debate regarding the large number of stranded whales reported in 2016.
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South Africa’s First Antarctic fur seal - Bear’s Journey
Colette Bodenstaff - uShaka Sea World
On 14 June 2016, a fur seal was discovered on the
beach in Port Edward by the KZN Sharks Board and
reported to the KZN Stranding Network. The seal was
in a poor condition so the decision for rehabilitation
was made and Ezemvelo transported the seal to
uShaka Sea World for rehabilitation.
Upon arrival, we realised that we had just met a very
special visitor to our shores. We consulted with
experienced seal researcher, Dr Greg Hofmeyr from
the Port Elizabeth Museum, and together confirmed that we had received the first documented Antarctic fur seal on
South African soil. While uShaka Sea World has over 40 years’ experience in rescuing and rehabilitating vagrant
Subantarctic fur seals, Cape fur seals and the occasional Southern elephant seal, this was a first.
This male seal was estimated at
between four to six years of
age and was named "Arcto"
(meaning "bear-like"), but he
soon affectionately became
known as “Bear”. Routine
medical examinations were
done to assess his condition but
it soon appeared that Bear was
Bear acquired a healthy appetite, eating up to 8.5kgs of fish daily and steadily gained over 37kgs during his 5 month
rehabilitation period. After treatment he was soon parasite free and his blood results were rated as normal.
He was provided daily enrichment with the lighting in the rehabilitation centre kept low to simulate the light
exposure he would be accustomed to in the Southern Ocean. Unlike the feisty Subantarctic fur seals, Bear appeared
shy and showed slow, deliberate movement.
Once healthy, the animal care team began preparing him for transport to Port Elizabeth for his release. Bear had
been hand fed three to four times daily, but that was changed to regular feeds where Bear was encouraged to fetch
fish thrown into the water.
He was desensitized to the transport crate, which was introduced permanently into his rehabilitation area a few
weeks prior to his release. Through continued desensitization, he was relaxed enough to lie in the crate in his own
time. Soon, Bear was ready for the journey to Port Elizabeth where he would be released simultaneously with
Clarence, a young male Subantarctic fur seal concurrently being rehabilitated by Bayworld.
In the past, uShaka Sea World has collaborated with Oceans and Coasts, of the Department of Environmental Affairs
(DEA), to track rehabilitated seals via satellite. By tracking them, we have found the most optimum site to release
seals to give them the best chance of getting home. It has been established that 50 nautical miles south of Port
Elizabeth is the best release point for seals from the Southern Ocean due to the presence of the strong downward
Agulhas current. Tracking the seals has also enabled us to gather post-release data on their movements.
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Port Elizabeth is a 12 hour drive from Durban and the big day started very early with Bear playing his part by going
into the transport crate willingly. He was accompanied in the vehicle by uShaka Sea World’s Hayley Tennant, lead
seal behaviourist, Dr Francois Lampen the veterinarian and Craig Smith, assistant curator of Mammals and Birds.
Bear was relaxed during the long journey in his transport crate in the back of a closed but air-conditioned van.
Regular stops were undertaken to check on Bear and to hose him down.
Early the following morning, on 29th November 2016,
Mike Meyer (DEA), Greg Hofmeyr & Dr Francois Lampen
fitted the satellite tags to Bear and Clarence. The
procedures went smoothly and soon both seals were fitted
with two plastic front flipper tags and a satellite tag each.
The satellite tags, fitted between their shoulder blades,
would fall off during their annual moult.
As soon as the seals were relaxed and stable after the
tagging procedure, they were transported on the South
African Environmental Observer Network’s vessel, RV
Ukwabelana, 50 nautical miles offshore for release. Bear
and Clarence were successfully released much to the
delight of all on-board and involved in their rehabilitation.
DEA sent regular updates on Bear and Clarence’s positions. After 66 days at sea, Bear went ashore on an ice-floe just
off Montagu Island in the South Sandwich Islands, roughly 6800 km or 11 % of the Earths circumference. Bear then
left Montagu Island, after a brief four-day rest. He then headed west and reached South Georgia a week later,
hauling out at Harrison’s Point. He spent a month in the area, of the now uninhabited Stromness Bay. It is possible
that he underwent his annual moult during this period. Bear then left South Georgia and moved to the South
Sandwich Islands again, passing close to Saunders Island. At this time, the satellite signal was lost, assuming that the
satellite tag fell off as a result of his recent moult.
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Leatherback turtle buried when embankment collapses
Santosh Bachoo – Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
On 18 November, Scientific Services received a report of a dune collapsing on a nesting leatherback turtle burying
her alive. The turtle, which had never been tagged before was found dead on an early morning patrol by turtle
monitors just south of Kosi Bay. The beaches had been badly eroded after a super moon event creating large
embankments throughout the besting area. The turtle was buried on the beach close to where she had died.
KZN authorities burn its first whale as a carcass disposal method
Although burning is not the first option in carcass disposal on the beach, it is certainly one of many effective tools to
dispose of a carcass when conditions are optimal. In October, Ezemvelo Conservation Manager, Kevin Green, found
himself in a predicament where no heavy-equipment was available to bury or remove a large whale off a popular
Burning a whale only requires ignition fuel because, once ignited, the oils and fats of the whale will burn. Burning
should only be undertaken if the burned fuels:
• Will not contaminate freshwater or other natural resources;
• Will not cause wildfires in areas of significant vegetation; and
• Will not cause anger or a nuisance with local residents.
It is advisable to carefully check the wind forecast for the proceeding 7 days, and to ensure that it is not in a direction
that will interfere with local residents. Whale’s burn with a black, oily smoke which needs to be managed carefully
away from public areas. The location of the carcass in relation to the high-water mark is a key consideration in
ensuring that burning remains optimal and is not unduly compromised by tidal influence.
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Guidelines for the disposal of whales and whale shark carcasses for the KZN coast
A document providing guidelines on the disposal of marine carcasses was
developed and distributed. The document was developed by Ezemvelo, KZN
Provincial Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental
Affairs and the KZN Sharks Board. The document outlines a variety of methods
for removing and/or disposing carcasses, the implications and health risks of
being in possession of, or consuming whale products, the legal requirements for
disposal and a reporting template which highlights issues and possible solutions
to future carcass disposal operations. These guidelines were released to the
municipalities and other stakeholders.
The stranding network in KZN continues to operate effectively, however, a number of issues occurred and continue
to hamper stranding incidents.
• With the Department of Forestry and Fisheries terminating the historical Ezemvelo marine compliance
contract the stranding network is in danger of ceasing to exist. Without the support of the Ezemvelo staff
distributed along the KZN coastline, stranded animals may go unnoticed, samples of animals cannot be
collected and strandings will essentially become unmanaged, including threatened and protected species.
Partner organisations in the stranding network do not all have the authority to transport threatened and
protected animals and therefore no transport of animals would be legal.
• The public refloat or transport animals without contacting the relevant authorities.
• Live stranded animals create an emotional response from both members of the public and staff trained in
dealing with stranded animals. Emotions often drive the procedures, decisions and management of
stranding incidents which may result in choices being made which are not in the best interest of the animal.
In addition, the well-intentioned acts of the public often cause more stress to an animal and can result in the
animal drowning during rescue attempts.
• A number of stranding incidents remain unreported. Everyone involved in the stranding network and those
who deal with the public are encouraged to educate people living in coastal areas to follow procedures and
to contact the relevant authorities if a stranding occurs.
• Correct transportation or stabilising of animals prior to transportation to rehabilitation facilities can be
• Additional awareness and awareness material should be printed and distributed to the public.
• Public workshops should be held at least annually.
The stranding network cannot operate successfully without the assistance and support from a variety of people and
organisations across the province. Many members of the KZN Stranding Network contributed to this report, some of
which require special mention:
Geremy Cliff, Mike Anderson-Reade and Wayne Harrison (KZN Sharks Board); Colette Bodenstaff, Shaleen Bikka,
Simon Chater, Gabby Harris, Carol Knox, Francois Lampen, Ann Kunz, Jone Porter, Craig Smith, Gavin Drysdale and
Judy Mann (uShaka Sea World); Mike Meyer and Mdu Seakamela (Department of Environmental Affairs); Sue-Anne
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Shutte (CROW); Michelle Pearson (SCAR), Quentin Powers and his team (Specialised Rescue – Ballito) and Wayne
A sincere thank you to the Ezemvelo Marine Conservation Managers, Coordinators and Park Managers for their
support in submitting stranding reports and alerting Scientific Services to stranded animals.
Photographers: Many photos are sent from unknown sources, these people are acknowledged for their
contribution. Often animals cannot be identified without these images and are considered as vital information.
The public play an enormous role in the rescue of stranded animals and they are thanked for their dedication,
compassion and kindness in assisting the KZN Stranding Network staff in dealing with stranded animals. The
following members of the public are also thanked for their efforts during 2016, Karen Zostron, Geoff Fraser, Debbie
(from Elysium), Melissa, Steve and Wynand who assisted in strandings during 2016.