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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. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015
Peak Season!

We’re definitely into peak season on our humpback highway along the East Australian coast now! We’ve been seeing large numbers of whales every day. Many of them in larger so-called “competitive pods” of 4-6 individuals, usually one female being pursued by several males on their way to the breeding grounds off northern Queensland.

Today we watched seven different pods with 17 humpback whales in total, with many others spotted off in the distance as well. It’s absolutely fantastic to see the whale numbers have increased so much, considering that they had been hunted to the brink of extinction in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Humpback whales are a true conservation success story, showing just how effective international protection can be. In the mid-1960s there were thought to be as little as 300 whales left in this population. Numbers are now up to about 20,000 again which is such great news for the whales, but also for us who can go out every day to watch these magnificent animals show off their antics in their natural habitat.

We did get to see some spectacular behaviours today as well, including repeated tail slapping, tail lobbing (throwing their tail stock up and across the water), flipper waves, and a few impressive breaches!

Eco Ranger Ina

  

  

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Tuesday, 30 June 2015
Perfect Conditions

Well, we are right in the midst of whale watching season now. The conditions were perfect out there, today: blue skies and light winds. We saw 4 pods of humpback whales up close. However, there were about 8 more pods in the distance, all on their northward journey.

We approached a pod just resting, out from Cape Moreton. There was a young whale (about a year old) swimming alongside it's mother. As another pod of 2 large whales approached, the juvenile breached clear out of the water right next to the boat. It's quite common to see pods approaching each other and then separating throughout the migration. In this case, it may have been 2 mature males approaching a female and her calf. She may not have been available to mate and so the males quickly moved on. As we made our way back into Moreton Bay we came across another young whale lying on its back slapping the water with both pectoral flippers. 

Eco ranger Chris

Posted by Chris
Saturday, 20 June 2015
Working out the dominance

It was another great whale watch yesterday! A 15 knot SW wind was causing havoc in Moreton Bay so we headed to the eastern side of Moreton Island, where it was nice and protected. The whales are sometimes staying close to shore in these conditions. We first encountered a young humpback whale (about 1 year old) continuously breaching. He was alone, no mother insight. This is unusual to see as they are still heavily reliant on their mothers at that age. He was likely breaching in an attempt to contact his mother. He came close to the boat to check us out and then continued to breach for about 30 min. I hope he finds his mom!

We left the young whale and headed closer to Cape Moreton, where we spotted a group of larger very active whales. It was a group of 4 large humpbacks swimming very close together and slapping the water with their large pectoral flippers. This was likely a group of mature males working out the dominance hierarchy. These guys came right up to the boat to check us out and continued their pectoral slapping for about 40 minutes (see video). We are right into the season now and are seeing a steady stream of whales passing by Moreton Island.

Bye for now.

Eco Ranger Chris

Posted by Chris
Tuesday, 16 June 2015
A taste of whale breath

Today the Tangalooma Whale Watch Cruise was fantastic. The sun was hidden behind a few rain clouds but the whales were not phased by the wet weather and put on a spectacular show.

We headed around Cape Moreton to the eastern side of Moreton Island, where we came across a pod of 5 humpback whales. The pod was made up of 2 juvenile whales (probably, born the previous year) travelling alongside a few large adults (probably, their mothers). The pod broke up and the two juveniles began to swim separate ways. As we followed at a distance, the juveniles began flipper and tail slapping the water and continuously breaching. It was as though the two juveniles were competing with each other, to see who could jump the highest out of the water. One of the juveniles swam right up to the boat and let out a huge blow and the guests standing on the deck got a taste of whale breath. Right before we started to head back home, the adult travelling with the juvenile did one last breach in front of the boat (see video).

Eco Ranger Chris

Posted by Chris
Wednesday, 3 June 2015
First whale of the season!

A stunner of a day today for our very first whale watch cruise of 2015! Hardly a ripple was disturbing the water as we were making our way out towards Cape Moreton. There is always a bit of nerves involved as we’re heading out on the first cruise… are the whales here yet? Will we find any? Will they be active? Well, we were not disappointed today!

We actually spent the whole afternoon with only one whale, a juvenile, quite dark in colour. The humpback whales here in the southern hemisphere tend to be black on the back and white underneath. But this one was almost completely black on the belly as well, with white only on his flippers and tail! We followed him for quite a while, as he was slowly meandering north. But he was not in much of a hurry, spent some time rolling around at the surface, waving his big pectoral flippers and slapping his tail. He was joined by a large pod of over 50 bottlenose dolphins including a few young calves, that all seemed very curious about him, playing around the whale.

Then our young whale went down for a few long dives. And just when we started looking around for other whales, thinking he had had enough of our company, he suddenly surfaced literally right next to us, only a few meters away. He sat at the surface for a few minutes, facing us, and it looked like he was checking us out and contemplating what to do with us. Then he dived, only to come up again a few seconds later with a massive breach, right next to the boat! He made a huge splash and there were cheers and whoops all around from our guests! Maybe that spurred him on because he continued to jump high out of the water, at least thirty times in a row! It was as if he had decided to really show off for us! Absolutely amazing to watch and a spectacular start to our 2015 whale watch season!

Eco Ranger Ina

              

Posted by Tangalooma Marine
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
 
 
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