Dr. Els Vermeulen

PhD . University of Liege, Belgium


Phone: +27 (0) 60 971-4301

Email: [email protected]


Population structure and viability of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) in South Africa

The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin of South Africa was recently recognised as a separate species (Sousa plumbea). Listed internationally as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN and ‘Endangered’ within South Africa, it is considered South Africa’s most endangered marine mammal. Preliminary estimates from several study sites along the coast suggest less than 1,000 individuals inhabit South Africa’s warmer eastern coast, divided into two populations ranging along the coast of kwaZulu-Natal and the Cape south coast respectively. The latter population is thus isolated between the species range limit to the west and suboptimal habitat to the east, within which the population is subject to multiple human impacts. For this reason, the humpback dolphin was recently been identified as a high conservation priority during a recent Red Data list assessment of South African cetaceans, and more information, in the form of a coordinated population wide assessment was stated as urgently needed to accurately inform conservation plans.

Despite some extensive research, all studies on the species to date have been limited to a few relatively small geographical regions, with limited to no information on aspects related to the species distribution. As a result, not only is there a gap of information in some un-studied coastal regions, particularly west of Mossel Bay, but there appears to be a general lack of understanding on how the already existing pieces of information can be combined to assess the regional or even national status of the species.

Therefore, this research project aims to provide a first comprehensive assessment of the species’ population status, structure and viability along the Cape south coast through dedicated field surveys and the establishment of a national collaboration with other research groups. The results will assist in the identification of causal factors affecting their conservation status feeding directly into the identification of priority conservation actions for this species and its habitat.


Postgraduate students


Miss Sara Stempels. MSc in Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management (2016)

Miss Lonneke Haak. Bachelor in Applied Biology (2015)

Published by Christopher Weldon

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