Calling all ‘citizen scientists’

Cape Town is one of the best places in the world to watch whales from shore and we are lucky to have three dif-
ferent species which can be seen regularly around our coast – the southern right, humpback and Bryde’s whale. But did you know there are also five species of dolphin which can be seen around Cape Town from shore which is
more than in any other town in South Africa?

Even more amazingly, because of the unique location of Cape Town straddling the “two oceans”, the dolphin species are different on each side of the Cape Peninsula. On the west side of the peninsula we see mainly the dusky and Heaviside’s dolphins and on the east side we see the bottlenose and the endangered humpback dolphin. Common dolphins can be seen on either side of the peninsula and are often found in large groups ranging up to hundreds and even thousands of dolphins.

Despite this amazing diversity of species around the Cape Peninsula, there is actually very little scientific data available and most of what we know is based on very old records and strandings of dead animals. The Sea Search team, made up of scientists and students from the University of Pretoria and the University of Cape Town are trying to study the effect of climate change on cetaceans by mapping their distributions and figuring out what’s causing their range limits. Could it be sea water temperature, wind, availability of fish?

You can help us find out.

“Citizen scientists” are members of the public who voluntarily assist scientists with research.

Citizen science has become a very valuable tool and is used in a range of different study fields.

The E3C project uses two citizen science approaches to study whale and dolphin distribution. The first is to collect opportunistic sightings. In other words, if you have seen a whale/dolphin we would like to know what you saw, where you saw it, the date and time, and the group size, even if you saw it 10 years ago.

We are especially interested in sightings where you could provide a picture or video.

The second is to interview experienced water users, preferably people who have at least five to 10 years of experience with cetaceans and the ocean. Your knowledge on cetacean presence is really valuable and we would love to chat to you about what you know. This is a call to all citizen scientists including fisherman, tour operators, divers, surfers, scientific water users, and the general public to contribute sightings and/or be interviewed by us so that we can gain a better understanding about our local cetacean species.

If you or anybody you know can assist in any way, please send an email to or call 021 788 1206 / 071 682 4774.

If you’re unsure how to tell between different species, contact us and we’ll send you a species guide or send us a picture and we’ll try to identify it for

Feel free to follow our Facebook page called Sea Search and add Seasearch sightings as a friend to sub-
mit your sightings on our timeline. If
you prefer Twitter you can tweet us at @seasearchafrica or Instagram us

We encourage citizens from Hout Bay and surrounding areas to submit sightings to the E3C project. Since we have lots of unanswered questions and gaps in knowledge for this area, your help will be very valuable to us. Submit a sighting today and help scientists maintain and conserve the diverse assemblage of
cetacean species in South Africa.

* Tevya Lotriet is an MSC candidate at the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria.