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The Bluff Whale Heritage Area
The Bluff

The Bluff Whale Heritage Area

Information

Visitor centres or museums

Description

The Bluff is a coastal suburb that forms part of the port of Durban on the eastern seaboard of South Africa. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty, with stunning landscapes and an abundance of wildlife both on land and at sea. As one of the main enclosing elements of the Bay of Natal, the Bluff Headland has extraordinary geographical, environmental and historical significance.

People at the Bluff have a strong desire to retain their heritage and links with cetaceans through festivals, trails, guided walks, and whale watching opportunities.

The Bluff has a Whale Watching Route and celebrates the arrival of humpback whales with the Welcoming of the Whales Festival every year. The Old Whaling Station is being transformed by the Sodurba community tourism organisation into a Heritage Site and Eco Tourism Hub point where they can share their history with tourists and guests. The vision is to showcase how the local community has evolved from whaling to become protectors and admirers of the whales, and to educate the public about wildlife and the importance of ocean conservation.

Sodurba has also recently registered this destination as the Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) Whale Coast®, which will further strengthen and foster the community’s sense of pride and leave behind a legacy.

The Bluff became the world’s first certified Whale Heritage Area (along with Hervey Bay) in October, 2019.

Motivation

Durban Tourism has an invested interest in promoting the destination and ensuring that it’s sustainably managed, while The Bluff stakeholders have a plan in place to promote and support conservation and responsible tourism. The steering committee recently launched a Whale Watching Route and also held the first "Welcoming of the Whales" festival in June 2017 for local people to celebrate the cetaceans along their coast. Educational projects are in place to inform and educate local children to protect the planet and cetaceans. Tourism projects are also in place with the local community to promote business and employment opportunities.

Achieving Whale Heritage Area status has been of immeasurable importance to the communities, authorities and organisations that represent this region. The WHA designation has helped to change attitudes towards the environment, ocean habitat preservation, and the importance of protecting cetaceans.

Boundary Map

Species or habitats

From May to December, humpback whales can be seen as they migrate along the east coast of South Africa. There are estimated to be over 7,000 humpbacks migrating through the waters of Durban now, compared to only 340 when the whaling station was closed in 1975. Other whales occasionally seen in the area include dwarf minke whales and Southern right whales.

Humpback dolphins and long-beaked common dolphins are commonly sighted between May and July, while bottlenose dolphins are seen year-round.

Area Features

Humpback whale, Dwarf minke whale, bottlenose dolphin, humpback dolphin, long beaked common dolphin - Species

Stability

Humpback whale: Increasing

Dwarf minke whale: Stable

Bottlenose dolphin: Unknown

Humpback dolphin: Decreasing

Long beaked common dolphin: Unknown

Threats

The Durban port acts as a sink for waste entering the port from canals and city storm water drainage pipes. This waste is then released into the ocean and washes up on adjacent beaches along the KZN coastline and within the WHA area. Proper waste management and disposal practices are needed to prevent such instances and protect the marine ecosystem. Community beach clean-up efforts are crucial in order to prevent the waste from building up on the shores and impacting the local environment and wildlife.

Whales and dolphins can also become trapped in abandoned nets or caught by accident by fishing vessels.

Actions taken for protection

To maintain and improve biodiversity (both marine and terrestrial) and to address the threats relevant to cetaceans and their habitat, projects and initiatives are carried out by stakeholders, such as WILDOCEANS, Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBRE), EZEMVELO.

Some of these initiatives include the implementation of measures to reduce plastics, discarded fishing gear and other solid waste entering waterways, and the provision of sustainability training for local tourism businesses.

Community Importance

The designation of the Whale Heritage Area has motivated communities and groups, with WILDTRUST clearing over 96 tons of waste from Durban's waterways. Environmental measures at Bluff National Park Golf Course have reduced ocean pollution.

Recognition of the Whale Heritage Area has not only raised awareness for marine conservation but also driven sustainable progress and employment in the area. Durban Tourism and Bluff stakeholders have embraced eco-consciousness, fostering economic gains and job opportunities through sustainable tourism. The Youth Employment Services programme has partnered with WILDOCEANS (and their WhaleTime initiative), as well as Whale and Dolphin Tours, to offer workplace opportunities for young, unemployed people in the local community.

Wildlife Watching Guidelines

Whale watching guidelines are adopted and adhered to in the WHA. Only operators with valid boat-based whale watching permits, allocated by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs – DEA (now Dept. of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries – DEFF), are allowed to conduct boat tours, of which there are two permit holders within the area.

This permit stipulates regulations on: performance monitoring, acts and government gazettes that operators need to abide by, submission of information such as sightings and number of passengers for every cruise, the area of operation, vessel requirements and specifications, prohibited actions and regulations of how to approach wildlife.       

Recommendations include guidelines on safe distances for approaching cetaceans, responsible practices when calves are present, and time limits for encounters.

Fact 1

Humpback whales migrate from Antarctica along the east coast of South Africa through the coastal waters of Durban during the months of May through to November.

Fact 2

Whales were originally hunted for their blubber, spermaceti (sperm whale oil), and baleen, all of which were used for a variety of household and industrial products.

Fact 3

Long-term photo-identification studies suggested that some humpback dolphins display long- distance movement patterns (up to 150 km), while other individuals display long-term residency within the KwaZulu-Natal area including Durban.

Management Plan

Management Plan File

    Overview

    Title
    The Bluff Whale Heritage Area
    Level
    Designated
    Name Location
    The Bluff
    Name Species Group
    Cetacean
    Country
    ZAF
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