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Rare Whales Rock Up At Walvis

The Namibian (Windhoek)

7th March 2003

Maggi Barnard At Swakopmund

TRUE to its name, Walvis Bay seems to have become home to one of the most rarely seen whales in the world.

Over the past six years, about eight Pygmy Right Whales have found themselves stranded at the salt works pump house just outside the harbour town.

On Wednesday another one - measuring about three metres - beached herself.

She weighed about 700 kg and it took more than 10 men to help get her back into the water.

"She is hopefully fine as we made sure to get her into deeper water with a boat," said Neels Dreyer of Mola Mola Safaris, who spots many whales with his dolphin and seal cruises.

According to Dreyer, the beached whales have all been juveniles.

"We suspect that they might be breeding in the vicinity as they always beach near the pump house".

Most die before they are found.

The one on Wednesday was discovered by a fisherman who alerted Dreyer, who in turn contacted the Fisheries Research and Information Centre at Swakopmund.

Fortunately Jean-Paul Roux, principal fisheries biologist at Luderitz, who monitors the movements of cetaceans (marine mammals) was in town and could oversee the rescue effort.

The whale was placed on a sling and carried into the ocean by more than 10 men.

As she wanted to keep on swimming into the harbour area, she was guided and lightly pushed by ski boat towards the ocean.

According to books on whales hardly anything is known about the Pygmy Right Whale.

They are not seen in the water very often, partly because they are small and lie low in the water.

One book mentions that until recently only 40 strandings have been recorded.

Adult Pygmy Right Whales grow up to six metres.

They are between 3,2 m and 3,8 m when weaned, which was the size of the rescued one.

Dreyer said they also managed to rescue another one which was found stranded about three weeks ago.

Dreyer said he was seeing more whales around Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.

"I am not sure if we are paying more attention, but we are seeing more of them".