Tales from the bay with Raggy Charters. Southern Right Calves begin leaving Algoa Bay.

The first Southern right whale calf on record was born in Algoa Bay on the 20th July 2021. Raggy Charters, on a marine safari, came across a cow and calf pair at Hougham Park just north of St Croix Island in the marine protected area of the Addo Elephant National Park. This pair, along with at least another 10 whales took up “residence” around the mouth of the Sunday’s River. Historically, the peak of birthing is around late August, so this whale calf had arrived a little early.

To celebrate the occasion, Raggy Charters ran a competition to name this first-born calf and the winning name was… Onenzi! On safari yesterday, mother-and-calf pair were spotted passing the northern breakwater at the mouth of the harbour in Nelson Mandela Bay and, if this was indeed Onenzi, it seems a fitting farewell to the people of the bay! Browse yesterday’s pictures below

Calves are born at 4,5 to 6m in length, correlating to the size of the mother. Raggy Charters observed Onenzi for 85 days and if, as according to cetacean scientists, the calf grows at 2,8cm per day, it would have grown an additional 2,38m. This would make the calf around 8m in length, which seems to match the photos above. This critical length of 8m is when the calves leave the nursery area. It is assumed that at this size they are large and fit enough to undertake the migration back to their feeding grounds some 4000km to the south. Here they begin to will consume krill at the age of 6 months and have been observed with their mothers up until a year of age.

We wish Onenzi a safe passage. Predation, a ship strike, plastic and other forms of pollution are a constant risk for migrating whales. The original population of these amazing animals was estimated at around 70 000 animals. They were the first whales to be hunted and around 150 000 had been killed by 1850. By 1935, when they were finally given protection, it was thought that there were as few as 300 individuals left. The last reliable population estimate for the South African population was 4100 animals in 2006. If the population grows at 7% per year as assumed, this would hopefully have increased by 2021. On the other hand, fewer observations have been made in recent years, which could be due to numerous factors.