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Tue, 30 April 2019

Cape Town beach-goers have been confronted with an unusual sight lately: whale sharks washed ashore around the Cape Peninsula, writes Tatjana Baleta. Photos Maryke Musson.


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LONG DAY: This exhausted juvenile whale shark could not be saved at Kommetjie. Photo Supplied


Whale-shark-at-Camps-BayThe juvenile whale sharks were found at Kommetjie’s Long beach and at popular Camps Bay beach (right).

With the two found up the West Coast, a total of four whale sharks have beached in the Western Cape during the last month. Sadly, none survived.

Whale sharks are the largest living fish species and can grow to over 10m in length. The animals washed ashore in Cape Town were juveniles of five metres. These gentle giants are harmless filter feeders, sifting plankton and small fish from the water.

Whale sharks inhabit warm temperate and tropical waters and, while they can be found on the northern East Coast of South Africa towards Mozambique, it is highly irregular to find them in cold waters such as those of the Cape Peninsula.

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SUPPER TIME: Feeding a baby turtle that was washed up near Cape Town. Photo Maryke Musson


Maryke Musson, curator at the Two Oceans Aquarium, explained that when whale sharks travel down the East Coast’s Agulhas Current, they can be thrown out of the conveyor belt of warm water by rough seas and strong winds, which is typical weather at this time of year as winter approaches and the southern storms start moving north.

Disoriented and weakened by cold temperatures, they don’t have the strength to make it back to warmer water, and eventually wash ashore.

This happens to other warm water dwelling sea creatures too, according to Musson. She describes the period from March to July / August as “turtle wash-up season”. Every year during this time, young turtle hatchlings “pop” out of the warm current and are pushed to shore by rough weather, where they wash up, cold and dehydrated.

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LITTLE BIG GUY: It's all about the stats. A baby turtle's width is carefully measured. Photo Supplied


But there is hope. The Two Ocean’s Aquarium takes in the hatchlings for gradual rewarming and rehabilitation, with an 80% successful release rate. At the time of writing, they currently have 25 turtles under their care.

So if you come across a baby turtle stranded on the beach, don’t throw them back in the water, she says. Place the turtle on a warm, dry cloth in a large tupperware, keep it out of wind and sun and contact the Two Oceans Aquarium. Unfortunately for the whale sharks, by the time they wash ashore it’s too late.

What-to-do-if-you-find-a-turtle

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