Kenya Humpback Whale Research Project


Humpback Whale Fundraiser

Seas4life has a purpose beyond travel, which is to support and raise awareness through fundraising and outreach programmes. For World Ocean Day 2021 we are supporting the Kenya Humpback Whale Research Project:- This years World Ocean Day theme is, Oceans Life and Livelihoods, as the humpback whale has a huge role to play in our battle against climate change, we felt this was project was the perfect way to mark the day.

Here in Kenya we are about to welcome the magnificent humpback whale, a marine mammal that migrates annually to the shores of east Africa from the waters of the Southern Ocean. Although we know something about the timing of their migration and the rhythms of the whale season in Kenya, we still need to join all the dots that define their migration routes, establish the population size and find solutions for the threats they and their habitats face in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO).

The project we are supporting, the Kenya Humpback Whale Research Project, includes a team dedicated to tagging these animals to help bridge some of our  knowledge gaps. Their research enables scientists and governments to study how shipping lanes, new ports, fishing activities and offshore industries, such as oil and gas exploration, are affecting these highly social and complex mammals. The research team is a close collaboration of several groups, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, which has studied  humpback whales in the WIO for over 20 years in Madagascar, the Comoros and Mozambique.  Additional partners include the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute  (KMFRI) ) , and Watamu Marine Association (WMA) and all of these groups are partners within the Kenya Marine Mammal Network (KMMN) an informal network of government, NGO and citizen scientists. This collaboration has greatly improved the available data for marine mammals and their conservation in Kenyan waters. 

The primary objective of this project during the 2021 season is to deploy 10 ARGOS satellite tags on humpback whales to explore patterns of their movement in Kenyan waters and beyond, providing critical information for their management and protection. Previous work has clarified many aspects of humpback whale ecology in the WIO, but there is much more to learn, particularly for animals that visit East African shores.  The numbers of whales in the WIO fluctuates annually for reasons that are not fully understood but are likely linked to the availability of food in Antarctica where they feed. Their movements are also a mystery; previous satellite-telemetry studies have revealed the movements of humpback whales from Madagascar to Kenyan and Somalian waters. However their Southbound migrations and feeding destinations have never been studied. 

Amazingly, the team started this research in Kenya during both 2018 and 2019 thanks to individual and organisation donations and support including the National Geographic Society. The 2020 season was sadly cancelled due to the global COVID 19 pandemic and it is absolutely vital we help get the team back out there to collect data for these whales at the end of the 2021 breeding season (late September and early October). This period will allow the team to capitalise on calmer seas but it will also optimise tag duration, giving us a greater chance to reveal migratory pathways and destinations in the Southern Ocean, potentially connecting tropical Kenya to the icy Antarctic. 

 

The researchers also work as part of a regional initiative – the IndoCet Consortium – whose objectives are aligned to improve the understanding of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) in the WIO, promote cetacean conservation and ensure that regional scientists and other stakeholders (like yourselves) are engaged. Current work includes a regional acoustics project named COMBAVA that is now entering its second year, with acoustic recorders deployed offshore of Watamu. The project is directly linked to a parallel satellite tagging effort in Reunion (named MIRONMEN II), and some of the same team members will travel to Kenya to help with the project following an effort to tag an additional 15 whales in Reunion in early September.

The total project cost is around USD 191,600 of which USD 96,600 has already been secured thanks to the project contributors of 2019 including National Geographic and institutions that have already committed to the research. A total of USD 95,000 is needed to complete the 2021 survey work. Equipment that was kindly donated in 2019 will be used, but if the additional funds cannot be secured the 2021 research project cannot take place. These funds will enable the project to pay for the researchers, the boats, the deployment of the tags, other logistical costs, communications and access to the data provided by the satellites that allows monitoring of whale movements. Your help is therefore instrumental.

So as part of the World Ocean Day 2021, please donate to the Kenya Humpback Whale Research Project 2021 so that we can learn more about our ‘blue’ planet and all that it gives us.

We will share with you a link to track project progress once the project is underway. This includes access to satellite tracks in ‘humpback whale real-time i.e. when satellites provide a position’ so you can follow the movements of whales within Kenya and beyond.

Keep following us to find out more about humpback whales and how important they are to our lives. For instance do you know how much they directly and indirectly contribute to carbon offsetting?

Also learn about what you can do to become an Ocean Guardian – given we are a Blue planet and only know 5% of our oceans.

Thank you/Asante/Shukran/Merci/Danke/Grazie mille/tack/Tusind tak/Kiitos/спасибо

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