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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. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015
Perfect Conditions and Playful Whales

Another stunner of a day out on the whale watch today… Making our way out through the glassy calm waters of Moreton Bay we could clearly see the sky scrapers of Brisbane City in the distance, as well as the silhouettes of the Glasshouse Mountains at the Sunshine Coast, it was such a beautiful clear day! Perfect conditions in the open waters around Cape Moreton as well with barely a ripple on the water.

As we made our way out along the northern end of the island we were soon joined by a pod of 4 humpback whales, swimming in two pairs. They were just lazily rolling around in the shallow waters close to shore and came over to us for a good look at the boat a few times.

Moving on we then found another pod of 6 large adult humpbacks. These guys were a lot more active, charging and lunging through the water, likely chasing a female. They treated us to some spectacular big breaches right near the boat as well! Very exciting to watch!

To top it off we even had a rare sighting of a beautiful banded Sea Snake up at the surface for a breath of air, right next to the boat!

What a great day at sea!

Eco Ranger Ina

    

    

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Sunday, 30 August 2015
Spectacular Moreton Bay Wildlife

It was a gorgeous day out on the water today and the wildlife of Moreton Bay put on an amazing show for us! We saw five humpback whales today, one of which showed off some spectacular continuous breaches right next to our bow for a good 15-20 minutes.

But it was not just the whales joining us today, we also had a close encounter with a very relaxed Green Sea Turtle that stayed up at the surface for a good while, giving us a really good look. We are lucky to have large populations of sea turtles calling the Moreton Bay area home: around 10,000 Green Turtles, 2,000 Loggerhead Turtles and the odd Hawksbill and rare Leatherback Turtles live in these waters. Moreton Bay is an important feeding ground for turtles as it boasts extensive sea grass beds, coral reefs and other habitats that support them.

We finished our wildlife-filled afternoon with a pod of about 20 bottlenose dolphins that were foraging in the shallow waters under the Cape Moreton lighthouse. Some of them got a bit curious and came over for a closer look at us. There are over 600 inshore bottlenose dolphins living in Moreton Bay and probably quite a few more along the ocean side of Moreton Island. Out here in the open water they tend to form larger pods than inside the bay (where the average group size is around 5-6). This is for safety in numbers, out in the oceanic waters they would encounter more potential predators such as larger sharks which we don’t see in the bay.

We’re so lucky to still have large populations of even larger marine animals in Moreton Bay, such as our turtles, dolphins, dugongs and annual visitors like the humpback whales. But we need to look after our bay, if we want these beautiful creatures around for our kids and grand kids to see as well!

Eco Ranger Ina

    

    

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Thursday, 27 August 2015
Southward bound

We are now well into the second half of the humpback whale migration season. Today we saw 8 pods of whales, with 16 individual whales in total. And all of these were heading south, on the return leg of their long migration, back towards Antarctica. At the moment we’re mostly seeing adult whales and a few juveniles. These big adults have done their mating and socialising for the year up in the tropics and are now on the way back to the feeding grounds of Antarctica.

Over the next few weeks we should also start to see the new calves arriving soon – the last 2 months of the migration, September and October, are always my favourite. The new mothers are usually the last to leave the tropical breeding grounds where they have given birth to their new babies, as the babies need some time to build up energy and fat for the journey. These babies are about 1-2 months old by the time we see them here and are usually very active and playful… just like human toddlers – full of energy!

So from now on is a great time to come out whale watching, we should be seeing our first southbound calves any day now!

Eco Ranger Ina

     

    

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Sunday, 16 August 2015
Close Encounters

Over the last few days we’ve been having close encounters with some very friendly and curious humpback whales! We’ve been having whales approach us to within touching distance, lifting their big heads above the water to look at us (spyhopping!) and even seen some huge breaches right next to the boat.

We’re now right in the middle of the humpback whale migration. We’re still seeing the last few stragglers heading north but also now encountering a lot of groups on their return journey back towards Antarctica. Usually on the way south they tend to be a bit more relaxed, travelling more slowly and taking their time to interact with us and do a spot of people watching!

They certainly are very intelligent and inquisitive creatures and it is always an amazing experience to come eye to eye with such a large animal and see them looking back at you, just as interested in you as you are in them!

Eco Ranger Ina

       

       

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Tuesday, 11 August 2015
A White Whale!!!

Today was a very exciting whale watch cruise… We had already heard the news that an all white humpback whale was spotted off the Gold Coast yesterday, making his way north, meaning he should be passing through our area sometime today. And sure enough, when we got out there, we managed to find him just North of Flinders Reef, slowly travelling North!

White whales are extremely rare, there are thought to be only four known all white humpback whales in the world. One of them (named “Willow”) lives in the Arctic, in the northern hemisphere. The other three are all members of our East-Australian population. The most famous white whale of course is Migaloo who was first spotted off the East coast of Australia 24 years ago, in 1991. He was thought to be a young adult then so should now be in his late 20’s early 30’s, in other words a fully grown male (his gender was confirmed by DNA testing of a skin sample). He has been making regular appearances along our coastline for the last 20 years or so. Another white adult called Bahloo was first seen around the Great Barrier Reef in 2008, but has been spotted much less frequently. Bahloo is also not 100% white, with a few black spots on his head and tail. The third of our Australian white whales is a juvenile called Migaloo Junior or MJ who was first seen as a calf in 2011. He or she seems to be completely white just like Migaloo and has been speculated (though not confirmed) to have been fathered by Migaloo himself.

As for today’s white whale, there seems to be a bit of disagreement as to whether it was Migaloo himself or MJ. Personally, I believe it was MJ we got to meet today, as it seemed to be a juvenile-sized whale, not a fully grown adult, and also the dorsal fin looks to me slightly different from that of Migaloo who we got lucky enough to spot 3 years ago.

Either way, it was an amazing view to see this beautiful bright white creature emerging from the dark blue water! And so lucky to spot one of only three white whales in a population of almost 20,000!

Eco Ranger Ina

    

    

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Sunday, 2 August 2015
Breaching Lessons

We saw another two newborn baby humpback whales today! There seem to be quite a few of them coming through now, which is interesting. All born a little early, still on the way north towards the breeding grounds of the Great Barrier Reef.

Both of the calves we saw today were quite active, displaying lots of tail slaps and even a few breaches! We also got to see the mother of the second calf breaching herself, jumping high out of the water, making her little baby’s attempts look a bit uncoordinated but very cute! It was interesting to watch both mum and calf taking turns at breaching; it looked like she was actually teaching the young one how it’s done. Humpback whale calves do stay with their mothers for about two years. They learn important behaviours from her during that time, including the migratory route they travel each year, feeding and social behaviours, and also displays like breaches.

We certainly enjoyed watching this lesson in how to be a whale!

Eco Ranger Ina

    

    

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Friday, 31 July 2015
Baby Whales!

Today was quite an exciting whale watch! The first pod of humpback whales we encountered off Cape Moreton included a mother with a tiny newborn baby! The calf was very small, still light grey in colour and still had a bent-over dorsal fin and a very soft, floppy tail fluke. When they are first born they are usually lighter grey, sometimes a creamy white colour, and their fins and flukes are soft and rolled up kind of like a newspaper to make birth easier. The fins then harden and stand up straight after a couple of weeks; so this little calf would have been only a week or so old! We had a fantastic time watching this little tucker swimming strongly alongside mum and even showing off a few somewhat uncoordinated-looking attempts at head lunges and tail slaps! Very cute!

We enjoyed the company of this mother-calf pair peacefully travelling north for a while, before wishing them luck and heading back towards the Cape. Before long we found another pod of whales, fast approaching from the south. As it turned out, there was another tiny baby in this pod! So lucky; we don’t often see newborn calves in this area, let alone two in one day!! This baby whale was even smaller than the first and still a milky creamy colour over large parts of its body! Unfortunately, this encounter was not as peaceful as the first. The mother and calf were being chased by two big adult whales, presumably males. They were moving very fast, lunging through the water and it looked just like the usual competitive courtship pods we often see when males are pursuing females to mate with. This female had a new baby though so she was obviously not ready to mate! They have a single baby every 2-3 years at a time, so it will normally be at least a year until this mother is ready to conceive again. It was obvious that she was not happy about the advances of the males, she was swimming fast, trying to get away, and it was amazing that her tiny baby managed to keep up! Infanticide is common in other mammals. A well-known example is lions, where if a male takes over a pride, he will kill all the young (offspring of his predecessor) to make the mothers receptive again. This behaviour is rare in whales and dolphins. They are not monogamous, females mate with several different partners; which means that the males don’t know who their own offspring are. Thus by killing young calves, they would run the risk of actually killing their own baby. However, there have been occasional exceptions reported of male humpbacks harming or even killing young calves. In a lot of those cases it is probably accidental – calves may get caught up in-between the mother and over-excited, rowdy, testosterone-fuelled males. So we were quite worried for the little one as we watched this mum being pursued closely by two huge males. She zig-zagged, moving very fast, then made a beeline directly for our boat, dived underneath us and popped up a mile away on the other side! As we tried to catch up to see what was happening, the males started falling behind and eventually turned and went their separate ways, leaving mum and her baby alone. As she started to calm down she let us get close, in fact brought her baby right up to us, maybe seeing the large boat as protection. We were happy to see that mum had managed to keep the baby safe and unharmed. Hopefully the rest of their journey will be less stressful for these two!

Eco Ranger Ina

     

    

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Thursday, 23 July 2015
Whale Fertiliser!

We had an interesting day today with some quite rare sightings!

We saw a total of 5 humpback whales but spent most of the day with a mother and her 1- or 2-year-old calf that we encountered slowly cruising East along the northern beaches of Moreton Island. They were in quite shallow water (only about 5m deep) close to shore and they ended up heading South once they reached Cape Moreton. That makes them the first whales this year that we’ve seen travelling South, meaning they are already on the return journey back towards Antarctica. Quite early, all the others still seem to be heading North at the moment and usually we don’t start to see southbound whales until well into August!

Maybe the fact that they were quite early was the reason why they seemed to be taking their time, leisurely cruising along. Then they stopped to check us out, approaching our boat to within a metre, rolling at the surface. The youngster even spyhopped right next to the boat, lifting the big head above the water to get a good look at us! These kinds of encounters are always my favourite, when the whales seem as curious about us as we are about them.

But another really interesting thing that happened today was that at one point, the mum actually rolled on her side at the surface and then defecated, turning the water behind her tail a brown-green colour! Not something we see often, but that answers a question I have often been asked by guests: “Do whales poo??” Well yes, of course they do. In fact, recently there has been quite a lot of scientific interest in “whale poo”… As it turns out, whale poo actually plays a very important role in fertilising our oceans! This is particularly true for deep-diving species such as sperm whales or beaked whales. These species feed at depth, on deep water animals like giant squid, but they have a tendency to defecate when they are up near the surface. In doing so, they are actually transferring essential nutrients and minerals (for example iron and phosphates) from the unproductive deep ocean to the productive surface layer. This is where plankton can grow as it only receives enough sunlight near the surface. So the plankton is being fertilised by the whale poo, providing it with nutrients from the depth it otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. This finding has led to theories that by hunting most of the great whales to the brink of extinction, to a fraction of their original population size, humans have greatly decreased the productivity of our oceans, and the ability of plankton to trap and reuse greenhouse gases such as CO2. In other words, if we still had as many whales in our oceans as we used to, before commercial whaling started a few hundred years ago, maybe the effects of climate change we’re seeing today would be much, much weaker!

Certainly an interesting thing to consider and a good example of how our impacts on only one part of an ecosystem can have huge effects on other parts, even on ourselves!

Eco Ranger Ina

        

         

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Saturday, 18 July 2015
So many active whales!!

What an amazing whale watch today! We are still seeing so many pods of humpback whales coming through the area every day, it is just incredible. At this rate we are well underway to breaking our record of 812 whales; maybe we’ll even break the 1,000 mark??  Today we added 14 whales to our count, with many more around in the distance.

The whales seemed particularly active today as well, almost every pod seemed to be displaying some kinds of surface behaviours, including a lot of tail slapping, inverted tail slapping, tail lobbing, pectoral flipper slapping, and we even saw several huge breaches right up close to our boat!

It is simply breathtaking to come out here and see so many whales all around you, going about their antics!

Eco Ranger Ina

  

  

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Friday, 17 July 2015
First 30 days of Whale Watch Season!

Catch up with Eco Ranger Ina to learn about the first month of our 2015 Whale Watching season!

Posted by Chris
Thursday, 16 July 2015
Do you speak Whale??

Today we saw ten different pods of humpback whales up close with many more around in the distance! So many whales out there at the moment! And they were all being quite active, splashing around, tail slapping, flipper slapping, even breaching. It was amazing to watch their displays all around us!

These sorts of behaviours are thought to be a form of communication, as those loud slaps and the splashes can be heard and seen by other whales quite some distance away. It certainly felt like they were communicating today, with different pods seemingly responding with tail slaps and flipper slaps back and forth.

But humpback whales have other forms of communication as well. They do produce sounds or call under water. Their sounds are mostly produced within the nasal sacs located inside the blow holes. They don’t have a voice box like us so the sounds don’t come out of their mouths; they come out of the blow holes or even just reverberate through the whale’s body! Unlike dolphins, whales produce low frequency sounds. These can travel very long distances through the oceans. They have a range of different sounds they communicate with, including moans and grunts.

Today, two of the whales we were watching approached our boat, surfaced within touching distance right next to us, and one of them let out a loud grunt as it surfaced! Unfortunately we don’t speak Whale so it’s hard to know what he was “saying” and whether it was directed at the other whale swimming with him, or whether maybe he was trying to communicate with us! But it was certainly an interesting encounter!

Eco Ranger Ina

  

  

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Friday, 10 July 2015
First Baby of the Year!!

Today was quite a special whale watch, as we spotted our first baby humpback whale this year! The calf was swimming alongside mum staying very close to her side. It was quite small and still had a bent over dorsal fin! When baby whales and dolphins are born, their dorsal fins are very soft and curled up over the back, and their tail is rolled up kind of like a newspaper. Obviously this makes it a lot easier for the mother to give birth. Generally the fins harden and stand up straight after about a week or two. So this little one today was a newborn baby, less than two weeks old!

Mum seemed quite relaxed, even bringing the baby over to us to have a look. They were slowly travelling north towards the breeding grounds. Usually they give birth further north, in the warmer waters of the tropics, so this little baby was born a bit prematurely. It was great to see it swimming strongly and confidently along with mum. After a while the youngster became quite playful, rolling around at the surface, practicing a few little tail slaps and tail lobs, and even a few breaches to the delight of our guests! There were plenty of “awwww”s all around…

Eco Ranger Ina

  

  

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Thursday, 9 July 2015
Mating Season

We’re still seeing lots and lots of whales coming through every day, heading north towards their breeding grounds off North Queensland. A lot of the pods we’re seeing at the moment tend to be groups of large adults that are quite active, often moving fast, chasing each other. These are so-called competitive or courtship pods consisting generally of one female being pursued by several male suitors. Today we spent a lot of time with one such group of four big adults.

The behaviour is called a heat run. When a female is ready to mate, she will announce her presence, often by slapping her big pectoral flippers onto the surface or even breaching, signalling to any males in the area that she’s available. As the males approach though, she actually starts swimming away. The males will follow her and as they do, they are competing with each other for the best position, closest to the female. So the males expend a lot of energy, ramming each other, jostling for position, warding off competitors. This can go on for several hours and at the end, only the strongest and fittest of the males will have enough energy left to keep up with the female and remain by her side. This is her way of finding the best possible mate who will presumably father the strongest and fittest calf.

This is always exciting to watch as the whales tend to spend a lot of time jostling around at the surface and often move quite fast. Today they were rolling around, charging and lunging out of the water and ramming each other, literally a few metres off the side of our boat!

Eco Ranger Ina

  
  

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Sunday, 5 July 2015
A bit too crowded...

A gorgeous day today with glassy calm seas and sunshine! We were looking forward to our afternoon with the whales, heading out to Cape Moreton. Unfortunately we were not alone. As we arrived at the Cape we spotted several pods of whales in the area but each pod was surrounded by anywhere between 5 and 15 recreational boats and jetskis within 50-100 metres of the animals! I guess on a sunny school holiday Sunday you expect to see a few people out here but I’ve never seen this many boats crowding the whales like that! It was really quite disturbing to watch as I could see the whales getting distressed, changing directions trying to zigzag through the maze of boats and speeding up to get out of the area. We even watched people racing around at full speed, only metres away from pods of whales! Unfortunately the general public seems to be largely unaware of the rules and regulations surrounding our whales. You’re actually not allowed to approach whales to closer than 100 metres for boats and 300 metres for jetskis. “If a whale surfaces closer than 100 metres to your boat, place your gears in neutral and when safe to do so move your boat at no more than 4 knots until the whale is at least 300 metres away.” And there are no more than 3 boats allowed to be within 300 metres distance from the whale.

We stayed well away from all of these whales and instead motored south of the Cape along the eastern coast of Moreton until we reached quieter waters without as many boats. We were rewarded with sightings of dolphins, turtles, and a trio and pair of whales that were leisurely cruising along, clearly a lot more relaxed. The trio swam over to us and came by nice and close, and the pair started showing off some head lunges and breaches as well.

These are magnificent animals and it is completely understandable that people want to go over and have a look and get great photos of them. But if we all treat them with respect and act responsibly around them, we can have much more enjoyable (and needless to say much safer) encounters and interactions, both for us and for the whales!

Eco Ranger Ina

  

  

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
 
 
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