Unusual record of skipjack tuna

A local fisherman alerted the museum this week (10 July 2018) of some wild fish activity off the reef at the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve. Large bait balls of sardines were being pursued by hundreds of skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis). Retired museum colleague, Greg Brett, confirmed the identity of the species and commented that it was a good record for the region.

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East London Museum display of the skipjack tuna. Photo: Kevin Cole ELM

Documenting the event it was noted that the ‘boiling’ water off the reef had large fish surfacing as they preyed upon the smaller sardines.

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Skipjack tuna working a sardine bait ball off the Nahoon Reef. Photo: Kevin Cole ELM

The skipjack tuna are spindle-shaped with a silver belly and 4-6 horizontal stripes. They can grow to 1 m and weigh up to 35 kg. They mostly occur off the east coast in summer, so this record for the winter months (so close inshore) is rare. They feed on pelagic fish and squid (and occasionally juvenile skipjack).

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A skipjack tuna breaking the surface of the bait ball. Photo: Kevin Cole ELM

They generally occur in large schools near the surface in offshore waters and can be associated with sharks, whales and other tuna species. There was a lot of whale activity in the area on the day they were documented at Nahoon. The genus of the scientific name Katsuwonus is derived from Katsuwo, the Japanese name for the fish and pelamis (white wax). A silvery wax-like pigment can be scraped from the chest region and is used in high quality paints by taxidermists.  The common name is in reference to its habit of ‘skipping’ along the surface (as illustrated below).

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The ‘skipping’ action of Katsuwonus pelamis. Photo: Kevin Cole ELM

This fish is able to maintain swimming speeds of about 40 km/h due to a specialized ‘warm-blooded’ vascular system which keeps the muscles well supplied with oxygen. They occur in water temperatures ranging from 19-30 degrees Celsius.

References:

A guide to the common sea fishes of southern Africa by Rudy van der Elst

Coastal fishes of southern Africa by Phil and Elaine Heemstra

Two oceans – a guide to the marine life of southern Africa by G Branch, C Griffiths, M Branch and L Beckley

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Museum scientist receives a Vocational Service Award from the Rotary Club of East London

The Rotary Club of East London is the oldest in the city and was founded in 1926 (Charter No. 2317 2-4-1926). It is 7th oldest on the African continent. One of the club members, Rotarian Luke Baisley, assisted the museum with the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve project by facilitating funding through the Small Projects Foundation to have the first wooden boardwalk constructed.  The East London Museum has had a long standing relationship with Rotary over the past 2 decades and in particular with Rotary Club of East London member Mr Graham Keppie.

Last night museum scientist Kevin Cole was very happily surprised and humbled to receive a Vocational Service Award from the club in ‘recognition of his personal qualities and his superlative contribution to the Eastern Cape as Principal Scientist at the East London Museum‘.

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President Pam Way of the Rotary Club of East London with Kevin Cole

Rotary International and the service clubs in East London have been very supportive of the museum projects directed by the natural history department. Gately Rotary Club has previously supplied funds for the Earth Stewardship program facilitated in previous years at the institution.

A turning point in Kevin’s career was the opportunity afforded by Rotary International and the sponsor club Beacon Bay Rotary to be part of a Group Study Exchange programme to Scotland in 1997. He was inspired by the vocational undertakings and was greatly enthused to contribute to his community on arriving back in East London.

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Thank you Marion Meyer for your kind comment  –

‘A very well deserved award. Congratulation to Kevin and thank you to Rotary for both of your dedications to the the environment’.

Marion

 

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Humpback whale stranding at Cape Henderson

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Country Life article on the wreck of the Grosvenor by Liz McKenzie

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The Story of the Wreck of the Grosvenor

In March 1782, The East Indiaman sailing ship, the Grosvenor, belonging to the British East India Company and captained by John Coxton, sailed from Madras, India, carrying both passengers and valuable cargo, bound for England. 150 men, woman and children were on board.

Words by Liz McKenzie. Images by Kevin Cole

Due to its late departure from India, the Grosvenor sailed alone. The voyage was rough and plagued by storms. Captain Coxton was in command on the night of 3rd August. The chief mate and ship’s navigator, Alexander Logie, was ill and not at his post.  At 1 am on the 4th August the lookout crew called a warning. Breakers could be heard and lights were seen, but the Captain, relying on his charts, believed they were approximately 450 kilometres away from land. However, due to a miscalculation in the charts, the lights seen were grass fires burning on the coastal hills of Pondoland, South Africa.

At 4.30 am the Grosvenor was swept up in a current and smashed against the rocks off Lambasi Bay.  Sailors were offered a reward to take ropes from the sinking ship, swim to shore and tie the ropes onto the shoreline rocks. Two made the attempt but one was drowned in the process. All the others on board were pulled safely to the shore, a dangerous procedure which took all day.  17 passengers and 91 crew members survived this initial ordeal.

The Mpondo people came down to the shore, initially offering no help but taking items from the wrecked ship, ropes, planks, sails and nails.  Captain John Coxton, declared they should “press south” towards the Cape believing that it was 400 km away, another dangerous miscalculation as the distance to the Cape was 600 km away.

The local people were promised gifts should they help the English castaways. They brought fruit, meat and milk but when the gifts were not produced they became angry, stripping the woman of their jewels and the silver buttons from the men’s uniforms, threatening them with spears and knives.

 

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A selection of treasures from the wreck.

A terrifying ordeal followed. The men, woman and six children struggled very slowly through rough difficult country, dense forests and wide rivers. The weak dropped behind. The survivors split up with the stronger men going ahead. Alexander Logie, his pregnant wife Lydia and the other woman and children could go no further. Captain Coxton abandoned these desperate people 2 days away from the Mzimvubu River. Going on alone he was never to be seen again.  It is known that Logie died and the abandoned woman and children were most likely to have been absorbed into the local tribe.

In some cases the survivors were helped by local people, but on other encounters they were attacked and men were killed.  In total 6 men survived that terrible journey, they were found by a farmer near Port Elizabeth 118 days after the ship was wrecked. A rescue team set off to find survivors. Some were found alive and were brought to safety.

For over 200 years fortune hunters have been searching for the fabulous treasures that were reputed to have been on the Grosvenor. In 1880 Sidney Turner, using dynamite, blasted the rocks in the area of the wreck site and retrieved coins and several cannons. News spread and the hunt for treasure lead to several bizarre schemes. A hypnotist was employed to guide treasure hunters to the spot in 1883. A salvage company, the Grosvenor Bullion Syndicate was launched in 1921- thousands of shares were sold in an attempt to recover the treasure. Efforts were made by tunnelling under the sea to reach the wreck. Dredgers, divers, breakwaters, cranes and modern scuba equipment have been used in an attempt to recover the legendary treasures.

In 1999 certain artefacts were brought to the surface which are now in the East London Museum, such as some gold and silver coins and personal effects. What became of the legendary treasure remains just that, a legend.

 

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Natal black snake records for East London (2017/2018)

On the 23rd January 2017 on a rainy evening (at approximately 20h42) a Natal black snake was noted crossing a grassed area at the home of museum scientist Kevin Cole in Beacon Bay. Sightings of these reptiles is not very often and research is underway to improve distributions records for the species. A previous unverified record of a Natal black snake at the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve has also been noted.

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Natal black snake Macrelaps microlepidotus, Beacon Bay, East London. Photo: Kevin Cole

On the 19th February 2018 the museum received a live specimen which was released after a DNA sample was taken for research purposes.

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These fossorial snakes have a blunt head with grooved rear fangs situated just below the eyes. The species also has smooth and very highly polished scales (as noted in the photos above).  They are shy snakes which are rarely seen with a docile manner (reluctant to bite). The venomous bite, however, can result in the loss of consciousness in humans. Prey species include lizards, small rodents, frogs and other snakes. They are also noted to constrict larger prey if need be. Carrion has also been recorded in its diet.

They lay between 3-10 large eggs with young being between 20-29 cm in length when they hatch. This snake is endemic to South Africa.

Reference: A guide to the reptiles of southern Africa by Graham Alexander and Johan Marais

 

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Loggerhead turtle stranding at Kayser’s Beach (East London)

Sadly around last year this time Bayworld in Port Elizabeth was trying rehabilitate a sick adult male turtle called Toughey who succumbed to a liver disease.

Yesterday a second  loggerhead turtle in just over a year was collected for research which stranded alive at Kayser’s Beach but didn’t survive.

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Partially fossilised shark tooth find

Mr Roy Clarke of East London kindly presented a shark tooth to the museum for identification. It was found along the Cefane beach (Chintsa Bay) recently.

A close inspection of the specimen revealed that the tooth has started to fossilise (discolouration as one indicator) and was imbedded in some lithified coastal sandstone – not an uncommon geological feature in the area.

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A 22-mm-tall fossilised great white shark tooth found by Roy Clarke. Photo: Kevin Cole

A comparison of the tooth shape and dimension assisted in the identification as that belonging to a Great White shark Carcharodon carcharias. Retired museum colleague Greg Brett was able to demonstrate the difference in the tooth shape of other shark species such as the tiger and raggie to name a few in confirming the identification. Distinctive here is the very equal (triangular) presentation of the 2.2 cm tall tooth.

The earliest known fossils of great white sharks are from the mid-Miocene period 16 million years ago.

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