Several hundred people turned out for Durban’s first Welcoming the Whales Festival at the Bluff over the weekend. FRED KOCKOTT and DIONY LALIEU report
The two-day long festival marked the opening of the 4th annual World Whale Conference (WWC2017) taking place in Durban.
“We have delegates from all over the world, including Iceland, Madagascar, Portugal, Belgium, UK and USA, sharing ideas about whale and dolphin conservation,” said conference organizer, Wendy van Gool of the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA).
Van Gool said the frequent sightings of dolphins and whales off Anstey’s beach at the weekend were an encouraging sign.
“At one stage, there were pods of whales and schools of dolphins coming past every 5 minutes,” said van Gool.
Van Gool was also inspired by how children and adults had embraced the associated educational activities of the Welcoming the Whales Festival.
“The enthusiasm of the children coming in, reading complicated brochures and then asking questions was incredibly rewarding,” said van Gool. “Then there was this gentlemen in his 60’s who had never seen a whale before. He was soon viewing the action in the ocean through a telescope mounted at Anstey’s Square.”
Event organizer, Helga du Preez of Durban South Torusim (Sodurba) said she hoped the Welcoming Whale Festival would now become an annual event hosted in association with various organisations, including Wildlands, which is promoting its citizen science project, WhaleTime at the WWC2017.
Besides engaging the public in monitoring the migration of whales, WhaleTime also arranges educational tours at the Port Natal Maritime Museum about the history of Durban’s old whaling station – once the biggest the land-based whaling operation in the world.
“The conference has also pushed us to launch a bid for Durban to become a Whale Heritage Site and to make Durban’s old whaling stating an accredited heritage site,” said Whaletime project manager, Rachel Kramer.
“This is hopefully going to be one of key discussions at the conference,” said WCA chairman, Dylan Walker.
“It’s all about putting responsible whale watching destinations on the world map. We believe whale watching can play a critical role in protecting our oceans,” said Walker who took key WWC2017 delegates on a whale watching cruise on Saturday.
They were accompanied by a top Durban school girl surfer, Brittany Gadd, who became a WCA ambassador in promoting whale conservation after winning a recent Roving Reporter Soul Surfer Award in aid of marine conservation.
“I believe that the ocean is sacred, in every aspect,” reads a WCA advert, quoting Gadd. “It is beautiful, powerful, unrestrainable and home to thousands of creatures. It needs to be protected at all costs because without it life wouldn’t even be a possibility. – www.rovingreporters.co.za