Dr Penry’s research on the South African Bryde’s Whales began in 2003 when she was a Zoology undergraduate at Cardiff University. She was based at the Centre for Dolphin Studies in Plettenberg Bay from 2005-2008 to collect data for her PhD on the South African inshore Bryde’s whale population. This PhD was administered though the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She then obtained a post-doctoral research position with the University of Pretoria’s Whale Unit (part of the Mammal Research Institute), and in 2012 and 2013 extended her research into False Bay and East London.
Her research is the first to collect new data on South African Bryde’s Whales in over 30 years.
Dr Gwenith Penry – Post-doctoral Research:
Most people do not know that the Bryde’s whale is a permanent resident on the South African coastline and totally dependant on our shores for feeding, resting, breeding, etc. There are many reasons why we know so little about this elusive mammal. The Bryde’s Whale is fast moving spending as little as 3-4 seconds at the surface; with no breaching or fluking. The main reason we don’t know enough about this beautiful creature is mostly our fault, yes humans often destroy nature and the opportunity to get closer to it. Due to the similarity of the Bryde’s Whale to the Sie Whale, catch records of Bryde’s Whales were reported to be Sie Whales so the numbers caught in the past is not accurate. Available estimates are old and of questionable accuracy.
Basic Biology – Classification and Appearance:
* Baleen Whales
* Genus Balaenoptera (Blue whale, Fin, Sei, Minke)
* Also known as rorqual whales (throat grooves)
* Medium sized: <15m; <20 tons
* 3 rostral ridges
* Dark grey dorsally, pale ventrally
* Streamline build
Conservation Status and Biology:
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) recognizes 11 management stocks or simply 11 species of Bryde’s Whales. The number of species classified makes it even harder to determine specifics about the Bryde’s Whale. An accurate population estimate is unknown.
The Bryde’s Whales have limited or no migrations and breed throughout the year. Local and global distribution, tropical or sub-tropical distribution – 40 degrees North and 40 degrees South. 2 Ecotypes / 2 Subpopulations exist being Coastal or Pelagic. More scarring is apparent on offshore populations, mainly due to the ‘cookiecutter’ shark and their deepwater habitat.
Bryde’s Whale feeding Patterns:
Inshore form – sardines, anchovy, maasbanker.
Offshore form – Euphausids , some fish.
You will find the Bryde’s Whales feed with common dolphins, cape gannets, cape fur seals and sharks.
Dr Penry’s Objective:
* Determine current, range wide abundance estimates
* Foraging ecology – dietary contribution past and present
* Systematics – molecular taxonomy. How many species are there off South African shoreline.
* Does the inshore population form need of dedicated conservation and management.
In summary the Bryde’s Whale forms part of a small population (few hundred) and they are genetically isolated mammals. There is high competition for resources and this majestic, shy creature is South Africa’s largest resident predator.