Whales, Whale Watching and Whaling
While whaling is banned internationally, whale watching has become an extremely valuable and sustainable industry and the KBR is fortunate to have this natural and lucrative resource.
It was recorded in the mid 1700's that about 20,000 Southern Right whales migrated along South Africa's coast. During the 1800's, however, demand for whale oil (used in candles and lamps) and other whale products such as 'whalebone' (tough and flexible baleen plates used in corsets, umbrella ribs and even as the first typewriter-key springs) had spawned a huge whaling industry. Many species of whale were brought to the brink of extinction and by 1935 whaling had reduced the Southern Right population to less than 100. Because of their friendly and inquisitive nature, Southern Rights were easy to harpoon and – most importantly – they floated when harpooned, making them the 'right' whale to hunt.
In the early 1900s, a whaling station was established at Stony Point, Betty's Bay. During 1913 alone 10,000 whales were taken from South African waters and populations were diminishing rapidly. After World War 1, the Depression caused the prices of whale oil to drop and the whaling station at Stony Point was closed down in 1930. Some vestiges of the Stony Point whaling station are still visible today and photos of whales lined up with the oil vats behind their great bodies can be seen at The Whaling Station Restaurant, Betty's Bay.
Finally, in 1935, whaling was banned but not very successfully. In 1979 the South African Government placed a total ban on all whaling activities along the South African coast and the International Whaling Commission declared the Indian Ocean (north of 55 degrees south) a sanctuary.
Today, whale watching – both shore-based and from licensed boats – has become a welcome tourist attraction earning millions in tourism income and helping job-creation within the KBR.
Abalone / Perlemoen
Before the Asian market developed a taste for this sea snail, great pockets of abalone could be seen lying 2-3 deep in the waters off the coast. Now illegal poaching operations have robbed South Africa and its people of this resource and the income that could have been derived from its sustainable harvesting, forcing the Government to impose a total ban on gathering abalone by recreational divers and limiting commercial quotas.
The scientific name of the abalone along the KBR coast is Haliotis midae. In the wild, they take 6 to 7 years to reach sexual maturity and at this age the shell diameter is a minimum of 80-90mm but more commonly 130-140mm. Fertilization is external. When a female releases her eggs in the water (many thousands at a time) it stimulates the male to release his sperm. The trigger for this release is normally a change in pH or very high DO levels coupled with a specific water temperature. This might seem to be a wasteful method as many ova may remain unfertilized but this is why nature has decreed that so many should be released at a time. The fertilized eggs then grow into so-called veliger larvae, which drift around as part of the plankton, again with a very high mortality rate.
When they reach a stage where they are ready to settle on the near-shore seabed, they must be in the right environment, otherwise they die. Ideally, they find a sea-urchin under which to settle. Not only do sea urchins protect the tiny abalone from predation by fish, urchins also feed on kelp so there's a supply of detritus for the developing abalone. Once the young abalone achieve a shell diameter of about 30-50mm, they find a rocky surface on which to settle. By then they have developed a rasping tongue or radula that allow them to rasp away at kelp fronds to feed.
Abalone must be gregarious and live close together otherwise the female eggs will go unfertilized if there are no males nearby to release sperm. This is where over-exploitation (including poaching) have brought wild abalone stocks to the point of extinction. This is exacerbated when undersized and therefore sexually immature abalone are taken, which place more strain on stocks already under stress.
All of this shows how important it is that there should be strategically placed marine reserves where wild stocks of marine organisms can live and reproduce unhindered by man.
West Coast Rock Lobster (Crayfish)
Commercial harvesting of West Coast Rock Lobster takes place during the specified season.