Media story on cetacean strandings


Busy year of whale, dolphin strandings

By Barbara Hollands –

January 16, 2017

Principal scientist at the East London Museum, Kevin Cole is the go-to person when dolphins and whales are found beached or stranded along the East London coastline – and last year was the busiest on record, with the deaths of nine of the mammals.


EYE TO EYE: East London Museum’s principal scientist, Kevin Cole, examines the eye of a stranded 22m-long fin whale at Cove Rock beach in June last year. The mighty marine mammal was one of nine whales and dolphins that died along the coastline surrounding East London last year. The mammals became stranded between Bhirha River and Yellow Sands resort Picture: SUPPLIED

The deaths occurred between Bhirha River in the west and Yellow Sands resort in the east, and included five whales and four dolphins.

Cole said discharges of sewage close to the city, noise pollution, increased discharges of metal and chemical pollutants, diseases and collisions with boats could have been responsible for the fatalities.

“Our area is heavily polluted, with sewage outfalls close to East London [and] there is increased traffic and barotrauma [injuries from increased water pressure], caused by the seismic testing of marine beds for gas and oil along the KZN coast,” said Cole.

The seismic testing took place off KwaZulu-Natal early last year.

The year’s first case was the death of a pygmy killer whale, a species seen rarely in the region. It was found stranded at Bhirha. The last case was the death of an Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, found stranded at the mouth of the Nahoon River in November.

The pygmy killer whale, which was pregnant, had died from an ovarian cyst, while it was unclear why the bottlenose dolphin died. Young long-beaked, common dolphins, two humpback whales and a rare Cuvier’s beaked whale also died on our shores. In June, the stranding and death of a 22m fin whale at Cove Rock was the first on record in the area.

The deaths were particularly poignant for Cole, who developed an interest in marine mammals on his first visit to Port Elizabeth’s Bayworld as a child in 1972. He has completed post-graduate studies in marine biology and conservation.

Cole recalled a battle to save a whale last year: “I spent six hours in the water with the animal and mid-afternoon, at high tide, tried to encourage it to roll into deeper water a few metres away. The whale was exhausted after numerous attempts [to save it]. Considerable fatigue and possible damage to internal organs later caused its death.”

Being affiliated to Bayworld, the scientist works with marine mammal curator Dr Greg Hofmeyr, who curates the largest marine mammal collection in the southern hemisphere.

“Formal investigations, necropsies [autopsies] and collection of material have been extended under the Bayworld permit to me at the East London Museum. The East London Museum can respond to strandings that Bayworld cannot attend to,” Cole said.

He emphasised that marine mammals, alive or dead, were protected by law, meaning members of the public were not permitted to interfere with a stranding or remove marine mammal material from a beach.

“I am saddened by the unnecessary mortality of whales and dolphins due to our negative influence on the oceans,” he said. “As with most people, there is a connection with whales and dolphins and I have responded emotionally to that mammalian connection when dealing with strandings, especially when the animal has been alive. Intuitively, one senses that dolphins and whales have an advanced communication and a sociable structure that we can learn from.”

Cole will present a talk about the strandings at a Friends of the Museum and Border Historical Society meeting tomorrow at the Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer hall at 7.30pm. All are welcome and there is no charge. —


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Male loggerhead turtle rescued from Chintsa West


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Juvenile Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin predated on by a shark

On Wednesday 9th November 2016 the museum received a number of calls from the public that a dolphin had washed ashore at Nahoon Mouth (East London SA). The specimen was retrieved by the Aquarium and frozen for further analysis.


Museum scientist Kevin Cole later identified the cetacean as a juvenile male Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus). These dolphins are regularly sighted along the coast.

Bite marks were noted on the body of the dolphin – belly area (below and behind the left flipper), below the dorsal fin and below and back from the right flipper. The predatory species has not been ascertained yet. It is also not confirmed whether the animal was predated on after death (due to other causes) by a shark species.



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Supermoon today …..14 November 2016

Tonight at around 18h43 we will see a full Moon rise in the perigee position (passing close to the Earth at 356 509 km’s and being a full Moon can be referred to as a supermoon). The Moon’s path around the Earth is elliptical, with one side of the orbit closer to Earth than the other. The side closest to the Earth is called the perigee and the side farthest from the Earth is known as the apogee. The average orbital distance of the moon from the Earth is 384 500 km’s. However, because of the elliptical shape of the Moon’s orbit, the actual distance varies throughout the year, between 363,396 km at the perigee and 405,504 km at the apogee. Supermoons occur on an average every 14 months.


What will make this event special is that this will be the closest the moon has been to the Earth in the past 68 years (since 1948). A closer supermoon event is expected in 2034 when the Moon will be 64 km nearer to the earth than Monday nights sighting.

The last supermoon event recorded in East London was a lunar supermoon eclipse on the 28th September 2015 (see earlier post).

The moon is believed to have been formed when  a planetry body (a rock only slightly larger than half the size of the earth – about the size of Mars)) struck the Earth in its early days (4.5 billion years ago). All the debris from this collision coalesced forming the Moon.

The tidal action with good recent rains has already been noticed along our coastline as illustrated by the photos from Chintsa Bay (Lynne Farrenkothen).


Lynne’s comments – ‘There goes our very full lagoon, thanks to all the rain. Just in time for summer. Clean lagoon. But not too pretty on a low tide. Nature. Amazing’

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Young leaders from the Activate! initiative visit the museum

ACTIVATE! is a network of more than 2000 young leaders driving change for the public good across South Africa. Members of this network, Activators, are connected by their passion, skills, sense of self and spark to address tough challenges. They are actively initiating innovative and creative solutions that can reshape our society.


Youth network activates change

By Poliswa Plaatjie

October 27, 2016

Known as Activators, they aim to reconnect with the past in order to understand the present and future better. They are part of a growing network of young South Africans working towards creating a better future by 2030.

ROOTS AND BUDS: East London Museum scientist Kevin Cole takes a group of young people around the museum yesterday. Picture: SINO MAJANGAZA

Activate Leadership spokesman Senzo Hlophe said their journey would cover topics such as roots, heritage, black consciousness and leadership.

“As we look into these topics we will also share ideas on how we can shape the future,” he said.

Divided into two groups, they embarked on bus journeys to visit sites in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng.

The Eastern Cape group visited the East London Museum yesterday, where they were welcomed by scientist Kevin Cole. The last stop on the day-long tour he took them on was Nahoon Point Nature Reserve.

Hlophe said the group consisted of young professionals who were all working towards coming up with solutions that would change the lives of young people. “This movement started in 2012 when we made a call to young people to join us. We have more than 2000 Activators across the country.

“This is a platform where we meet and share ideas on how we can move forward as a nation, with a special focus on the youth,” he said.

Hlophe said the Activate training programme equipped activators with innovation and project planning skills, explored aspects of leadership and values and also provided an understanding of how to navigate the sociopolitical landscape.

He said their goal was to make sure all young people had access to employment opportunities by 2030.

“We want all young people to have access to meaningful employment, and not just your normal 9 to 5. We want young people to be able to run their own businesses.”

Hlophe said one of the aims of the tour was to introduce the nation to their network.

“The network is a vehicle for a new breed of young people who are really doing something to change the future.”

Today the Activators visit the Steve Biko Centre and Biko memorial site. “We will engage with the legacy of Steve Biko and also Ahmed Timol. This will give us a perspective on the leadership then and now,” said Hlophe.

On the third and last day of the trip the group will spend the day at the University of Fort Hare.

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News about the Earth’s moon


This  photo of the moon was taken early morning (22nd September 2016) above the Pantanal (Brazil) 


A facelift for the Moon every 81 000 years

2016-10-13 13:44



Paris – The Moon is bombarded by so much space rock that its surface gets a complete facelift every 81 000 years, according to a study released on Wednesday based on Nasa data.

This churn – affecting the top 2cm of mostly loose moon dust – happens 100 times more frequently than previously thought, scientists reported.

The study also estimates that asteroids and comets crashing into Earth’s only natural satellite create, on average, 180 new craters at least 10m in diameter every year.

The findings, published in Nature, come from “before and after” pictures taken by Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, which has been mapping the Moon since 2009.

By comparing images of the same area at regular intervals, a team of scientists led by Emerson Speyerer from Arizona State University in Tempe were able to tally the number of new craters and extrapolate to the entire surface of the Moon.

“We detected 222 new impact craters and found 33% more craters with a diameter of at least 10m than predicted” by earlier models, the researchers concluded.

The scientists also found thousands of subtler disturbances on the surface, which they described as “scars” from smaller, secondary impacts that – over thousands of years – churned up the top layer of the Moon without creating craters.

Earth is also constantly pelted by asteroids and meteors, but is protected by a thick atmosphere.

More than 100 ton of dust and sand-sized particles rain down on the planet every day.

Even space rocks up to 25m across will likely explode and disintegrate in the upper layers of our atmosphere, causing little or no damage, according to Nasa.

The Moon’s ultra-thin atmosphere only contains about 100 molecules of gases and elements per cubic centimetre.

Earth’s atmosphere at sea level, by contrast, is packed with about 100 billion billion molecules per cubic centimetre.


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Chatting about the museum dodo and the egg …. Buffalo City 360 magazine article


The East London Museum dodo display



The dodo may be extinct and yet …

Who would have thought a dumpy now-extinct bird, the dodo would have inspired so much debate and continues to do so to this day. East London Museum scientist, Kevin Cole, muses on this intriguing bird which remains an iconic symbol of extinction and inspired a little girl called Alice.


Extinction is a word which hangs over the natural world and reminds humanity of our fragility as a species. Over the millennia thousands of species have gone extinct and the world is entering the sixth extinction event since the beginning of life on Earth (as we know it 545 million years ago). One species which foraged on the island of Mauritius is still the strongest symbol of an extinct species – the dodo (Raphus cucullatus), a flightless bird belonging to the pigeon family. Its peculiar form represented by a bulky beak, rounded body and stocky profile has carved a place in the human psyche that habitat loss, over-utilisation of a species (by hunting) and predation by introduced alien animals can lead to being, well, ‘as dead as a dodo’!

Every day in some part of the world, species are going extinct – some we may never know existed at all. The East London Museum curates an egg believed to be that of the extinct dodo. It is quite sobering to view a tangible representation of something that will never be reproduced in the living world again. The eggs of birds and reptiles generally house the expectation of a life-form and the museum egg is a stark reminder that we still have challenges in protecting living organisms in their natural habitat (the tragic case of increasing rhino poaching in South Africa being a case in point). Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, the first curator of the East London Museum received the dodo egg from her great-aunt Lavinia Bean in 1935. It was a treasured family specimen which found its way to the museum and resulted in a cast of the egg being displayed along with a model of the dodo which was imported from the United Kingdom. The original is kept in a strong-room at the museum.

Lavinia Bean received the egg from a Captain van Syker, a friend of her father Mr L.O. Bean, on the 15th January 1847. Mr Bean was a naturalist and Captain van Syker collected many curios for him. Lavinia was a keen collector of bird’s eggs and when Captain van Syker visited Port Elizabeth in 1846 en route to Mauritius he committed to bring back an egg for her collection. This commitment was fulfilled when Captain van Syker obtained the egg from an old resident of Mauritius who parted with one of two eggs to settle a debt. The old resident was a descendant of a ship-wrecked sailor who had decided to remain on the island. Dodo’s are believed to have been extinct by 1662 having been first recorded by Dutch sailors 64 years earlier in 1598. The influence of humankind and introduced monkeys, cats, rats and pigs all contributed to the demise of this iconic bird. A swampy area known as the Mare aux Songes is where most of the surviving dodo bones have been recovered. This site is two km’s away from the present Mauritius International Airport. The living dodo’s were believed to have weighed between 10 and 22 kg, were approximately 72 cm in height and similar in length. They fed on fruits, berries and seeds and inhabited the south and west coastal areas of Mauritius. In 2006 I visited the Oxford Natural History Museum where a dodo skeletal is on display. It was this display that intrigued a little girl who took walks with author Lewis Carroll and who was later to be immortalised as Alice, along with the dodo in his popular work Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Much has been written about this bird and perhaps the stark reminder that it symbolises humankind’s negative influence on the natural world lends weight to its enigmatic appeal.

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