Cape Town - South African National Parks conservationists and wildlife officials are yet to determine the cause of a mass stranding of dolphins that occurred along a deserted stretch of coastline in the Eastern Cape.
On Friday, 31 March 2017, 38 common dolphins were spotted from the helicopter of Noel Greyling, who filmed the scene on his mobile phone and shared it to local radio broadcaster AlgoaFM.
SANParks have since confirmed that the coastal area forms part of the protection of Addo Elephant National Park, between Sundays River Mouth and Woody Cape in Algoa Bay.
The animals were found to be spread out over a 2km stretch of coastline, SANParks reports. There were 28 adults and 10 juveniles, of which 12 were male and 26 females.
After the footage went viral on social media, the Port Elizabeth Museum at Bayworld which deals with all whale, dolphin and seal strandings, was alerted. A site visit by SANParks and Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) following, in which it was established that the animals had most likely been stranded four to five days prior.
All 38 dolphins were dead, and the cause of death still remains a mystery.
"Dolphins are at the top of the marine food chain and as such are important indicators of the health of our oceans," SANParks says. "No obvious cause for this unusual stranding event could be determined, but no evidence of foul play was found. Further analysis may provide additional information.
SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: 30+ Dead dolphins wash up outside Port Elizabeth
Public asked to help
According to SANParks, "this section of the coastline appears to be a unique spot on the southern and eastern coasts of South Africa for mass strandings, with four other such events recorded by Bayworld since 1977."
However, the latest stranding event comprises the largest one yet.
They say that in order for the researchers to pinpoint the cause of individual stranding events, "it is imperative that strandings are reported as soon as possible to the local authorities so that better information can be gathered".
Members of the public are encouraged to report any marine mammal strandings (whales, dolphins, seals), dead or alive, to the Bayworld stranding hotline - 071 724 2122.
A team of seven people, comprising of members from Bayworld and the Cetacean Research Unit at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) on Saturday, 1 April, headed to the area along with staff and volunteers from Addo Elephant National Park to collect evidence and samples from the dolphins. Carcasses were also dissected to obtain vital information on the cause of death of the dolphins.
According to Dr Stephanie Plon, a member of the African Earth Observation Network (AEON) at NMMU who has been researching dolphin and whale health in Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal waters for the past nine years says that while the animals were partially decayed, all appeared healthy and in good condition.
Further analysis will be conducted to pinpoint the likeliest cause of death, while the rest of the animals' remains will be harvested for research.
Dr Greg Hofmeyr, curator of the marine mammal research collection at Bayworld, already secured tissue samples as well as skeletal material for the extensive marine mammal research collection at the museum. This data will add important information on the taxonomy of this species in South African waters.
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