Stephanie Plön, PhD

Bayworld Centre for Research and Education (BCRE), Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Member IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group

I have been researching cetaceans in Eastern Cape waters, South Africa, for the past 27 years, focusing on the general ecology of local species, including their natural history, reproductive biology, and trophic ecology, but also anatomy, population ecology and genetics, strandings, pathology and health assessments. For this I use a diverse array of research methods and collaborate widely with colleagues in related research fields to gain a more holistic picture of variations in the populations found in our local Eastern Cape waters in South Africa. A number of studies have utilised data and samples from investigations of bycaught animals at the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board and stranded animals along the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal coastlines in collaboration with Bayworld/Port Elizabeth Museum. Other important information has been obtained from field studies in Algoa Bay and along the Wildcoast, These studies have included a variety of small cetacean species (Kogia breviceps, Kogia sima, Grampus griseus, Tursiops aduncus, Delphius delphis, Sousa plumbea) as well as baleen whales (Megaptera novaeangliae, Eubalaena australis, Balaenoptera brydei) and the dugong (Dugong dugon). Increasingly, I have pursued an integrative and comparative research approach, combining various lines of investigation and using them to cross-inform each other. I aim to produce research that results in information that is relevant to conservation and management efforts and have been involved in conservation management initiatives, such as the South African Red List assessment (2014) as well as contributed to IUCN Red List assessment (2019). In addition, active collaborations exist with colleagues in Germany, New Zealand, the UK and the USA.

Publications and reports

Caputo, M., Froneman, P. W. and S. Plön. 2020. Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) occurrence off the Wild Coast, South Africa. African Journal of Marine Science.

Caputo, M., Bouveroux, T., Froneman, P.W., Shaanika, T. and Plön, S. 2020. The importance of the Wild Coast of South Africa for Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) using photographic identification. Marine Mammal Science. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12740.

Van Bressem, M.-F., Duignan, P., Raga, J. A., Van Waerebeek, K., Fraija-Fernández, N., and S. Plön. 2020. Cranial crassicaudiasis in two coastal dolphin species from South Africa is predominantly a disease of immature individuals. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 139: 93-102.

Schoeman, R.P., Patterson-Abrolat, C. and S. Plön. 2020. A global review of vessel collisions with marine animals. Frontiers in Marine Science 7: 292. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2020.00292

Plön, S., Heyns-Veale, E., Smale, M. and P. W. Froneman. 2020. Life history parameters and diet of Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus, Cuvier, 1812) from southeastern South Africa. Marine Mammal Science. doi:

Ngqulana, S., Plön, S., Pistorius, P., Galatius, A. and G.J.G. Hofmeyr 2019. Cranial variation in common dolphins (Delphinus spp.) off South Africa with the inclusion of information from the holotype of Delphinus capensis Gray, 1828. African Journal of Marine Science 41(3): 247-260. doi: 10.2989/1814232X.2019.1648318

Plön, S., Thakur, V., Parr, L., and S. Lavery. 2019. Phylogeography of the dugong (Dugong dugon) based on historical samples identifies vulnerable Indian Ocean populations. PLoS One 14(9): e0219350. doi:

Aznar-Alemany, Ò.,Sala, B., Plön, S., Bouwman, H., Barceló, D. and Eljarrat, E. 2019. Halogenated and organophosphorus flame retardants in cetaceans from the southwestern Indian Ocean. Chemosphere 226: 791-799.

Plön, S., Frainer, G., Wedderburn-Maxwell, A., Cliff, G., and S. Huggenberger, S. 2018. Dorsal fin and hump vascular anatomy in the Indo‐Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) and the Indo‐Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus). Marine Mammal Science. DOI: 10.1111/MMS.12570.

Ngqulana, S. G., Pistorius, P., Galatius, A., Plön, S. and G. J. G. Hofmeyr 2018. Variation in cranial morphology of bottlenose dolphins (genus Tursiops) off South Africa. Marine Mammal Science. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12553.

Frainer, Plön, S., G., Moreno, I. B., Serpa, N. B. and S. Huggenberger 2018. Sound generating structures of the humpback dolphin Sousa plumbea (Cuvier, 1829) and the directionality in dolphin sounds. The Anatomical Record. DOI: 10.1002/ar.23981.

Bouveroux, T., Melly, B., McGregor, G. and S. Plön 2018. Another dolphin in peril? Photo-identification, occurrence and distribution of the endangered Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) in Algoa Bay. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2877.

Bouveroux, T., Caputo, M., Froneman, P. W. and S. Plön 2018. Largest reported groups for the Indo‐Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) found in Algoa Bay, South Africa: Trends and potential drivers. Marine Mammal Science. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12471.

Vermeulen, E., Bouveroux, T., Plön, S., Atkins, S., Chivell, W., Cockcroft, V., Conry, D., Gennari, E., Hörbst, S., James, B. S., Kirkman, S., Penry, G., Pistorius, P., Thornton, M., Vargas Fonseca, A., and S. Elwen 2018. Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) movement patterns along the South African coast. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 28:231-240. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2836.

Ngqulana, S., Hofmeyr, G. and S. Plön 2017. Sexual dimorphism in long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis) from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Journal of Mammalogy 98(5): 1389-1399.

Caputo, M., Froneman, P. W., Du Preez, D., Thompson, G. and S. Plön 2017. Long-term trends in cetacean occurrence during the annual Sardine Run off the Wild Coast, South Africa. African Journal of Marine Science 39(1): 83-94.

Koper, R., Drost, E., and S. Plön 2017. First sighting of a leucistic humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in South African Coastal waters. Aquatic Mammals 43(3): 331-334.

Melly, B. L., McGregor, G., Hofmeyr, G. and S. Plön 2017. Spatio-temporal distribution and habitat preferences of cetaceans in Algoa Bay, South Africa. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the U.K.

Koper, R.P. and S. Plön 2016. Interspecific interactions between cetacean species in Algoa Bay, South Africa. Aquatic Mammals 42 (4): 454-461.

Conry, D., Pistorius, P., Plön, S. and G. Hofmeyr 2016. Sexual dimorphism and geographic variation in striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) crania along the coast of South Africa. Marine Mammal Science 32(4): 254-1271 . DOI: 10.1111/mms.12331.

Gui, D., Karczmarski, L., Yu, R.-Q., Plön, S., Chen, L., Tu, Q., Cliff, G., Wu, Y. 2016. Profiling and spatial variation analysis of persistent organic pollutants in South African delphinids. Environmental Science and Technology 50(7). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.1025b06009.

Koper, R.P., Karczmarski, L., du Preez, D., and S. Plön 2016. Sixteen years later: Occurrence, group size, and habitat use of humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) in Algoa Bay, South Africa. Marine Mammal Science 32(2): 490-507.

Plön S., Cockcroft V. G. and P. W. Froneman 2015. The natural history and conservation of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) in South African waters. In: Thomas Jefferson, Barbara E. Curry (eds): Humpback Dolphins (Sousa spp.): Current Status and Conservation, Advances in Marine Biology, Vol 72, Part 1, Academic Press, UK, pp. 143-162.

Plön, S., De Wet, M., Lane, E., Wohlsein, P. Siebert, U. and P. Thompson 2015. The importance of a standardized necropsy protocol for health investigations of small cetaceans in South Africa. African Journal of Wildlife Research 45 (3): 332-341.

Lane, E.P., de Wet, M., Thompson, P., Siebert, U., Wohlsein, P., and S. Plön 2014. A systematic health assessment of Indian Ocean bottlenose (Tursiops aduncus) and Indo-Pacific humpback (Sousa plumbea) dolphins, incidentally caught in shark nets off the KwaZulu-Natal coast, South Africa. PloS One. 9(9): e0107038. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107038

Moura, A., Janse van Rensburg, C., Pilot, M., Tehrani, A., Best, P., Thornton, M., Plön, S., de Bruyn, N., Dahlheim, M., and R. Hoelzel 2014. Killer whale genome reveals historical population decline correlated with climate change. Molecular Biology and Evolution. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msu058.

Ambrose, S.T., Froneman, P.W., Smale, M.J., Cliff, G. and S. Plön 2013. Winter diet shift of long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis) feeding in the sardine run in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Marine Biology 160(7): 1543-1561.

Plön, S., Albrecht, K. H., Cliff, G. and Froneman, P. W. 2012. Organ weights of three dolphin species from South Africa-implications for ecological adaptation? Journal for Cetacean Research and Management 12(2): 265-276.

Plön, S. and Bernard, R.T.F. 2006. A review of sperm morphology in Cetacea with new data for the genus Kogia. Journal of Zoology 269: 466-473.

Duffield, D.A., Barros, N.B., Espinoza, E.O., Plön, S., Gulland, F.M.D. and Heyning, J.E. 2003. Identifying pygmy and dwarf sperm whales (Genus Kogia) using electrospray ionization mass spectrometry of myoglobin and hemoglobin. Marine Mammal Science 19(2): 395-399.