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Whale Watch Blog

Welcome to the Tangalooma Whale Watch Blog.

 

Here, you can keep up to date with all of the action aboard our whale watching boat, and learn some interesting facts from our Eco Rangers. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014
That's a wrap

That’s it, the last cruise of our whale watch season done and dusted. It’s been an amazing year for us as we’ve once again broken our records. We sighted a total of 812 humpback whales this year including 65 newborn calves! Our sighting numbers have been increasing steadily over the past few years with 695 whales sighted in 2012 and 761 in 2013. This is a good indication of the increasing population size of the East Australian humpback whales of around 10% every year. It certainly is fantastic to be able to watch this population of whales recovering so well after they were hunted to the brink of extinction in the 1950s and 60s.  

But of course it has not only been the humpback whales we saw this year. Other animals sighted included three species of dolphins (inshore and offshore bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins), three species of sea turtles (green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles), dugongs, hammerhead sharks, flying fish and countless different sea and shore birds.

That’s what makes Moreton Bay such an amazing place for whale watching. We can guarantee you’ll see humpback whales, but you never know what else might pop up as well! This area is amazingly diverse in terms of marine life and rightfully protected as a marine park. We all need to do our part and look after this incredible environment to have all these beautiful animals around for future generations to enjoy as well.

We’ll be saying good-bye to the whales and their spectacular antics for now, and are already looking forward to welcoming them back in June 2015!

 

 

Posted by Ben
Sunday, 19 October 2014
The final week..

We are now into the last week of our whale watching season for this year, but there are certainly still whales around! Today we had a very active pod of three adults and a young calf that we spotted breaching and splashing around from quite a distance away. All of them (including the baby) showed off some very high breaches. At one point, two adults and then the calf all jumped out of the water in a row, one after the other! The mother also displayed a few big tail lobs and tail slaps.

Once the whales had calmed down a bit they actually turned straight towards us and swam right under the boat several times for a nice good look at us. Then they continued travelling South for a while. Just when I thought they had settled into slow travel mode, one of the adults displayed another massive breach, right up out of the water, only about 50m off the boat! Right after that the pod split up and one of the adults swam north very quickly while the other three continued on their southward journey. Certainly made us wonder what had been going on under water.

It may have been two adult males following the mother with her calf, competing with each other. Maybe that big breach at the end was the bigger male staking his claim and chasing the other one off. Breaches are often considered to be a sign of strength or dominance between competing males.

Whatever the reason, it was certainly an impressive display for us to watch!

 

 

Posted by Ben
Thursday, 16 October 2014
Moreton Bay..

Moreton Bay really put on a show for us today. Beautiful sunshine, clear glassy calm seas, and an abundance of marine life out and about! In addition to six humpback whales including a young calf, we also saw several Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill Sea Turtles, a few inshore bottlenose dolphins and a couple of beautiful big birds of prey (Brahminy and Whistling Kites).

Moreton Bay boasts an incredible diversity of marine life, due to its location in an area of overlap between tropical and temperate zones. Warm and cold water species of flora and fauna mix in this area, making the bay and some of its reefs (like Flinders Reef off the northern end of Moreton Island) more diverse than the Great Barrier Reef in terms of numbers of species per square metre.

We are very lucky to still have substantial populations of large marine vertebrates like dugongs, turtles, dolphins etc., in the bay. This is by no means common around the world anymore, especially so close to a major urban centre (the city of Brisbane). Coastal populations of marine animals are in decline everywhere around the world, mostly due to human impacts.

That’s why Moreton Bay is protected as a marine park, but it is really up to each and every one of us to do our bit to make sure that these beautiful animals stay around for future generations to enjoy as well. Simple things we can all do to help out include boating and fishing responsibly and reducing rubbish by reusing and recycling and putting it in the bin or picking it up when we see it out in the environment.

 

 

Posted by Ben
Saturday, 11 October 2014
A glorious day

What a glorious day on the water today! We had barely rounded Comboyuro Point to the northern end of Moreton Island before we spotted several pods of humpback whales splashing around in the distance. Before long we were surrounded by three pods that were all breaching!

We had a single adult jumping out right next to the boat providing some great photo opportunities. Meanwhile, another pod of two whales showed off two double breaches with both whales jumping out at the same time! Those two then continued to display several other behaviours, including pectoral flipper slapping, tail slapping, and tail lobbing.

To finish off we then found a few pairs of mothers and calves, with one of the babies rolling around at the surface slapping it’s little flippers. All in all, a great day out with a total of 14 whales spotted! 

 

 

Posted by Ben
Friday, 3 October 2014
Camouflage whales..

We are now into the last month of our whale watch season, but there are still plenty of whales coming through! We saw a total of eight humpback whales today and we didn’t even have to go far, we found the first pair, a mother and calf, barely 10 minutes into the  cruise, right off Tangalooma Resort!

Today we saw several individuals that had quite distinct colour patterns and markings. Humpback whales are generally black and white, black on the back and white on the belly. This is a form of camouflage in marine animals known as countershading. The black back blends in with the deep water below, the white belly with the sunlit surface above. But there is a lot of variation to the colour pattern, between populations and also between individuals. For example, humpbacks in the northern hemisphere tend to be much darker, mostly black, whereas ours down here tend to be on average half and half black and white. And different individuals have different amounts of black or white on them as well. Today we saw a mother and calf pair of which the mum had quite a lot of white up her flanks. You could see her white sides shining through the water before she would surface. She also had quite distinct patterns of patches and black lines and other markings in the white of her flanks. Her calf had the typical creamy white colouration of young calves, it was probably less than a month or so old.

Later we saw another pod of three adult whales, one of which also had very distinct white scarring and other markings all over his back. These colour patterns allow us to tell individuals apart quite easily and allows scientists to track individuals over time and learn important information about the population.

 

 

Posted by Ben
Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Every behaviour in the book!

If you’ve been thinking about coming out on a whale watching cruise, now is the time!  With only one month left to the whale watching season, the humpback whales have been in top form lately, putting on an amazing show for us every day. On top of that we’ve been seeing pods of three different species of dolphins almost every day as well.

Mostly it’s been the Common Dolphins lately that have been entertaining us with their fast-paced antics. But today we were joined by a pod of about 15 big offshore bottlenose dolphins! Offshore and inshore bottlenose dolphins used to be classed as the one species but recently, with more genetic research being done, they have been split into two. In fact, inshore bottlenose dolphins are actually more closely related to spinner and spotted dolphins than to offshore bottlenose. This certainly makes sense when you look at them, as they are quite distinct. The offshores are darker in colour than their inshore cousins (like the ones that come visit us at Tangalooma) and much larger and bulkier. And after we’ve been watching the small agile common dolphins these past few days, the offshore bottlenose looked so massive and powerful when they came up to the boat today to surf the bow and the wake!

As for the humpback whales, they were very active today, displaying pretty much every behaviour in the book! We watched full-body breaches, tail slaps, tail lobs, head lunges, and we even saw a mother and calf pair of whales do a double breach together! It was amazing to see the big mum and her little baby breaching next to each other at the same time! The main reason for breaching is thought to be for communication or signalling between different pods, but in this case we got the feeling that the calf was just having a great time and may have been practicing its breaches and lunges. And the mother seemed to be teaching her little one how to make a splash!

 

 

Posted by Ben
Monday, 29 September 2014
Not a cloud in the sky..

What a stunner of a day today! Not a cloud in the sky, calm seas, and the marine life certainly put on a show for us as well! We saw two pods of 30-odd Common Dolphins each, that played all around our boat, several sea turtles surfacing for a breath of air and a total of eight humpback whales. The first pair of whales came right up close, passing by our stern within touching distance, showing off just how big they are! The second pod was very active, displaying some big head lunges and breaches. And to finish off we had a pod that included a very playful young calf that was throwing its tail out of the water repeatedly, splashing around next to mum. So all the highlights in one cruise with different pods showing different behaviours, making for some wonderful photo opportunities!

We are very lucky that we have all this beautiful marine life still, right on the doorstep of Brisbane! Large populations of large marine animals like dolphins, whales, turtles etc. are by no means common around the world anymore. Especially those living in nearshore areas close to major cities are generally declining everywhere. This is due to human impacts such as boat strikes, fishing gear entanglement, overfishing, pollution and declines in water quality. Our marine animals are facing many threats these days and we all need to do our part to reduce these. Simple things we can all do in our day to day lives includes boating and fishing responsibly – slow down when there’s wildlife around and follow local fishing regulations. Also reducing household chemicals such as cleaning products and purchasing those that are eco-friendly and low in phosphates to reduce the amount of chemicals  and nutrients that enter our waterways. And one of the most important ones would be to reduce rubbish! Reduce, reuse, recycle, say NO to plastic bags or plastic bottles and try to cut any unnecessary plastics out of your day to day life. Obviously put rubbish in the bin and “take 3 for the sea”! If each one of us Australians picked up three pieces of rubbish every time we went to the beach, that’s almost 70 million items that don’t end up in the ocean and don’t kill marine life!  So try to “take 3 for the sea” whenever you go to the beach or even every day! Small actions like these do add up to make a big difference!

 

 

Posted by Ben
Sunday, 28 September 2014
Whale Morse Code?

We had an interesting whale watch today, spending around an hour with a very active humpback whale. The young female was on her own, and she was continuously pectoral flipper slapping and breaching in a very distinct repetitive order. She would slap her flipper onto the water seven or eight times in a row, then she would arch her back and go down for a deep dive, only to come up with a massive breach, jumping high in the air, twisting and crashing down onto her back. Then she’d resurface and start pectoral fin slapping again, seven or eight times, followed by another big breach. She kept repeating this sequence for around an hour, continuously!

It was great for us as her behaviour was quite predictable so everyone managed to get some fantastic photos. But certainly made us wonder about the reasons for her display. These surface active behaviours are generally considered to be a form of communication between pods of whales. We did see another whale off in the distance that was also breaching and pec slapping and our female was slowly heading towards that other whale, so they were probably signalling to each other. But the stereotypical sequence of her display was certainly quite striking, it almost reminded me of Morse code! Seven short splashes, one big long splash...?

Unfortunately deciphering animal communication systems or “language” is very complex and difficult but days like today certainly make me wish I “spoke whale” and could figure out what they are saying to each other.

  

Posted by Ben
Wednesday, 24 September 2014
Clearly in a playful mood..

One of the main things that always amaze me when we’re out there with the whales or dolphins, is how curious, playful and quite obviously intelligent these animals are. Today we saw two examples of that. We had a very close encounter with a mother humpback whale with a small calf. The baby would have been less than a month old but the mother was quite unafraid of our boat. To the contrary, she actually turned and swam straight towards us with her calf. They dived right under the boat, came out the other side, then turned again and swam straight past our stern. They were quite obviously checking us out. Maybe she was teaching the baby what a boat is and how to behave around it. Humpback whale calves stay close to their mum’s side for the first year or two of their lives and during that time they learn a lot of behaviours from her.

Later on in the cruise we were watching two pods of five and three adult whales, when a pod of about 15 common dolphins arrived. The dolphins were clearly in a playful mood! Some of them came up to ride our boat, others were jumping out of the waves behind us, and some went straight up to the three humpback whales and started swimming around them. They were bowriding right in front of the whales’ heads, swimming fast circles around them, clearly quite excited to play with them. I always imagine, for the resident dolphins that live in this area, the humpback whales that arrive in the winter months are probably just as much of an exciting novelty as they are for us!

 

 

 

Posted by Ben
Tuesday, 23 September 2014
30 common dolphins!

We had a beautiful day today with so much different marine life around! We saw five humpback whales that included a young calf as well as a pair of adults that came nice and close to the boat to check us out.

But the highlight today was an encounter with a big group of over 30 common dolphins! These beautiful dolphins are always very agile and energetic, and this pod was certainly no exception! They raced up to us to ride the bow, leaping high out of the water all around. They even had two tiny young calves with them which were just as active as the adults, porpoising through the water next to their mums. One of them even jumped high up into the air several times in a row! It was probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen – there were “awwwws” all around!

To finish off a day of great sightings we also had a close-up look at a beautiful green sea turtle near Flinders Reef. It surfaced right next to the boat for several breaths of air before diving back down. Sea turtles can live to over 150 years of age and this was quite a large animal, around a metre in shell length, so she may have been well over 100 years old! Imagine all the things she would have seen in her life! Hopefully she will live for another 50!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Ben
Sunday, 21 September 2014
My favourite part of the season!

We are well and truly into the Southern migration of the humpback whales now, and into my favourite part of the whale watching season: when the mothers with young calves make their way back south from the breeding grounds off Northern Queensland back to the feeding grounds off Antarctica. Over the last week we have seen a total of 12 young calves from this year’s season.

Newborn humpback whale babies are about 3 to 5 metres long and weigh over a ton. Which sounds like a lot but when you see them next to their 15 metre mothers, they look more like a big dolphin than a whale. They tend to be lighter in colour for the first month or two, often even a creamy white colour, until they darken up on the back to eventually the same black and white colour pattern as the adults. They also have a very short rostrum or head which always makes them look a bit scrunched up or stumpy (in a cute way!) compared to the long head of the adults.

When we see the calves here, on the southern migration, they tend to be about a month or two old. They would have been born further north, around the Great Barrier Reef Islands where the mothers would have spent a few weeks resting with them before starting the long journey back south to Antarctica. So when we get to see them here, they are kind of like human toddlers: full of energy! Of course that makes them so much fun for us to watch – nothing like seeing a baby whale launch itself out of the water over and over and over...

That was certainly our highlight today as well: watching a pod of two mother-calf pairs travelling South. One of the mothers did a lot of pectoral flipper slapping and both calves were very active as well. They were both throwing their tails around, slapping them onto the water and head lunging out of the water. These calves already had the typical black and white colour pattern of the adult humpbacks but they were both still very small, definitely from this season, and very cute to watch!

 

Posted by Ben
Thursday, 18 September 2014
A fantastic day on the bay!

Wow, today’s whale watch had pretty much all the highlights you could ask for! We racked up a total of 15 humpback whales and also saw inshore bottlenose, as well as common dolphins that came and hung out with us and the whales for a while. The humpbacks included four big adults that were travelling South. They got quite interested in us and kept swimming right under the boat, playing peak-a-boo, surfacing on either side of us. They even did a few big spy hops, lifting their large heads right up out of the water to have a good look at everyone on the boat. It seemed they had as much fun interacting with us as we did with them!

We also found a pod of three mother-and-calf-pairs that were all travelling together! I’ve never actually seen several mums and calves together like that, you tend to see them on their own or accompanied by another adult. But one of the three calves, a little female, was very active and excited. She did a few high breaches, right up out of the water, and also tail lobs, throwing her tail across the surface. At one point her mother was lying on her side, slapping her big flippers on the water, at the same time as the baby was tail lobbing! So much fun to watch!!

What a fantastic day to be out on the water, surrounded by so much beautiful marine life!

 

Posted by Ben
Sunday, 14 September 2014
Dolphins steal the show..

Today we had more of a dolphin watch than a whale watch... We did see three humpback whales, a mother and juvenile plus an escorting adult, who we spent a while with. But suddenly a huge pod of 50+ common dolphins came in and approached the whales!

Common dolphins are more of an oceanic, deep water species so it’s always exciting when they show up close to the coast for us. They are beautiful dolphins with a bright yellow stripe along the side and they are a bit smaller and sleeker than the bottlenose dolphins. Commons are often found in larger pods and they seem to absolutely LOVE bowriding! This pod came up the whales and started swimming in front of them to get a ride. We often see whales starting to roll around and play with dolphins that approach them but these three seemed to be completely uninterested. They just slowly cruised on and the dolphins were getting bored of them within a few minutes.

Instead, the whole pod of 50 dolphins came over to us and started milling around our bow. Knowing that these guys love to surf, we carefully started speeding up a little and sure enough, the dolphins immediately got excited and started bowriding. There were even quite a few young calves amongst them, surfing away next to their mothers! We continued to play with them for a good 40 minutes! I don’t know who was having more fun, the dolphins bowriding, surfing and leaping out of the water, or us watching and cheering them on! 

 

 

Posted by Ben
Friday, 12 September 2014
Whale talk

We had quite an exciting whale watch today! We saw 21 humpback whales in total and most of them were in the throws of courtship displays! After a couple of smaller groups we came across a big pod of seven whales consisting of a mother and calf and five other adults, presumably all males. The calf was only small, probably from this season so only a month or two old. In which case the mum wouldn’t be quite ready to mate again just yet, as she will be nursing this calf for at least a year to 18 months. Usually they have a new baby on average every two to three years. Only very rarely do they give birth in consecutive years. But these males seemed to be keen to take their chances, they were right behind the mum, following her every twist and turn as she just seemed to be trying to get away!

When they eventually started giving up and splitting up into smaller groups, we spotted another whale breaching off in the distance. As we approached that one, we noticed lots of other whales in all directions doing the same, heading straight for the breacher. Obviously that one must have been signalling to them, calling them in, and he or she continued breaching until there were a total of seven whales that had come together. They all then started to travel on together, in one big group. It was very interesting to see and certainly shows that the breaching is a form of communication or signalling. But it does make you wonder what exactly the whale was telling the others!

 

 

Posted by Ben
 
 
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