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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. 

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 whale watching 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
Saturday, 6 September 2014
No sign of our mate Migaloo..

Still no sign of Migaloo but we still had a great whale watch today with lots of photo opportunities. We started of with a mother and her newborn calf! A very cute little baby whale, still light grey in colour, suggesting that he would have been no more than a couple of weeks old, if that. Mum was very protective at first, keeping her distance from us and keeping the baby very close to her side. But after a while she became more confident that we didn’t mean her any harm and she started coming closer. Eventually she was slowly cruising right next to us, so we were able to get a good close look at the little one. Fully grown, healthy humpback whales don’t have many natural predators but a small newborn calf like this one certainly would be a target for some of the larger predators like big sharks or orcas. So it was no surprise that the mother was very cautious and kept her calf very close to her side.

After that we had a few elusive whales that weren’t really interested in us. But to round up the cruise we came across another whale on the way home that was breaching and pectoral flipper waving continuously! He gave us a fantastic show and I think everyone managed to snap at least a few photos of breaches, as we certainly had plenty of opportunities for it!

  

 

Posted by Ben
Thursday, 4 September 2014
Surfing dolphins..

After having to cancel most of our whale watch cruises in the last couple of weeks due to the strong Westerly winds, we were happy to be out on the water again today, in absolutely stunning conditions with barely a ripple to be seen! And just in time to keep an eye out for Migaloo as well, who should be passing by in the next few days. Migaloo of course is the famous white humpback whale, the only confirmed albino humpback in the world, who migrates past our shores every year. Unfortunately there was no sign of him today, but we certainly had a great time watching his normal-coloured fellow whales.

We saw a total of nine humpbacks today, starting out with a pod of four big adults chasing each other. They were probably a female and three males, jostling for position next to her. We saw them breaching a couple of times to show off their strength or dominance and also lunging and charging at each other. Quite exciting for us to watch!

After that we spent some time watching a pod of about 20 bottlenose dolphins including at least two young calves. They came quite close to our boat and seemed to be having a good time surfing the waves and leaping out of the water! It’s always nice to see wild dolphins out there, going about their natural behaviours without being trained or made to perform tricks.

Towards the end of our cruise we found another couple of pods of whales that all seemed to be resting, at least until they were joined by a cheeky dolphin. Upon the dolphin’s arrival the whales seemed to perk up, did a few spyhops to look around above the water and started rolling on the surface and waving their pectoral flippers in the air.

All in all a beautiful day out on the boat with different pods of whales and dolphins around showing off some interesting behaviours. Maybe we’ll get lucky and spot the white whale tomorrow!

Eco Ranger Ina

   

Posted by Ben
Friday, 15 August 2014
The most unusual sighting..

We had an amazing cruise with quite a few special moments today! When we first came out of Moreton Bay, passing Comboyuro Point (the northwestern corner of Moreton Island), we were greeted by two very curious humpback whales that came over and sat within touching distance off the back of our boat for a few minutes to check us out. Moving on towards Cape Moreton we were joined by a beautiful Common Dolphin that came racing in to have a quick ride on our bow wave! He was moving so fast, leaping high out of the water as he was coming towards us, it was a stunning sight! We don’t see common dolphins very often as they tend to live in deeper waters further offshore, but this small pod has been hanging around quite close to the coast, just off North Point, for a few days now. As we approached Cape Moreton we were suddenly surrounded by pods of humpback whales in all directions! There were so many whales around and they were all very active, with breaches, tail slaps, flipper slaps, headlunges and generally splashing around everywhere! We didn’t know where to look!

But the most unusual sighting was still to come as we turned back towards Moreton Bay for the cruise home. Just off Yellow Patch we found another four humpback whales that were slowly moving towards a huge school of baitfish. The fish were so dense we could clearly see them as a big dark patch in the water. There were also lots of sea birds circling over them and diving in to pick up fish from the surface. This was quite an interesting situation because humpback whales don’t normally eat up here. They do all their feeding during the summer months in Antarctica, where there is lots of krill and baitfish for them to eat. Down there in the southern oceans they will eat over a tonne of krill every single day and build up a huge fat reserve, the blubber layer, under their skin. They then live off that fatty tissue for the rest of the year while they are migrating or up on the breeding grounds. There have been only very few rare sightings of humpbacks opportunistically snacking on large schools of bait fish if they happen to come across them while on migration. But they usually don’t eat anything at all during their migratory journey. So we were quite intrigued to see what these four whales were going to do.

Two of the whales moved towards the left side of the bait school while the other two moved over to the right and they seemed to be herding the fish between them towards the beach! Suddenly one of the whales lunged straight through the middle of the school, just below the surface! He brought his head up above the water on the other side so we could clearly see his expanded throat from that huge mouthful of fish he had just gulped up – he was definitely feeding!! Another soon followed, turning on his side as he skimmed through the bait. Meanwhile the other two appeared to be gulping up fish on the outside of the school. What incredible behaviour for us to witness, even all of our crew were super excited as none of us had ever seen whales feeding in this area here before! Truly a very special and unusual encounter for a boatful of lucky people!

Posted by Ben
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
Dolphins ridin' the bow..

We spent most of today watching the antics of a young adult male humpback whale who was swimming together with another whale in the waters just north of Cape Moreton. The male spent a good 45 minutes continuously lifting his tail out of the water, waving it in the air, and slapping it back onto the surface of the water. Maybe he was trying to impress the other whale swimming with him, presumably a female? The second whale certainly seemed quite interested in his display, she stayed very close to him and kept swimming around him and checking him out. I think more than likely it was a form of courtship display, as the two of them were slowly making their way north towards the breeding grounds.

Courtship takes many different forms in humpback whales, ranging from the testosterone fuelled heat runs (several males chasing a female and competing with each other) to the beautiful love songs the males sing to attract a partner. Different whales seemed to have different strategies for finding a mate and it is certainly quite possible that this young male thought waving and slapping his tail for such a long time was a good way of showing off his strength and stamina. His companion certainly seemed quite intrigued by his behaviour so he must have been doing something right...

Either way, it was fun for us to watch and provided plenty of great photo opportunities!

We finished the day with a quick sighting of a pod of common dolphins that suddenly came racing in to ride our bow and jump out of the wake behind our vessel! These common dolphins are a rarely seen species (despite the name) because they tend to live in deeper, more offshore waters. But we sometimes get lucky enough to see them around the northern end of Moreton Island. They are always a lot of fun to watch as they are very fast, full of energy, and absolutely seem to LOVE bowriding!

  

Posted by Ben
Sunday, 10 August 2014
Upon return..

There were plenty of humpback whales around again today, in the calm waters around Cape Moreton. We are now at the end of the northern migration, with many whales already heading back South again towards Antarctica. We’ve only been seeing very few pods heading North anymore over the past few weeks, but today there were several of them making their way up past the Cape and Flinders Reef. These northbound whales seem to be on a mission to get to the breeding grounds now, with most of them travelling quite quickly. But they did give us a lot of great views at their big tail flukes today, which everyone always loves getting photos of!

When the humpback whales take a deeper dive they arch their backs, giving them that “humpbacked” appearance, where the name comes from. And sometimes they then raise their entire tail out of the water. The tail fluke can be quite large, up to 3-5 m wide in a fully grown adult. Humpbacks are generally black and white in colour, black on the back and white on the belly. This is a common colour pattern in marine animals and is known as “counter shading”. It’s a form of camouflage, as the black back blends in well with the dark ocean below it (looking from above) whereas the white belly blends in with the sunlit surface of the ocean (looking from below).

So the tail fluke is also usually white underneath but it’s generally not completely white, it has black lines, spots or other patterns and markings on it. If you get a good photograph of the underside of the tail, you can actually identify that individual whale as no two are the same! Today we even saw a whale that had an almost completely black underside of the tail fluke which is quite unique! 

Posted by Ben
Friday, 8 August 2014
Social butterflies..

We had another fantastic whale watch today with ten humpback whales sighted up close and lots of action! The whales certainly have been extremely active in the past few weeks, we saw a lot of breaches today including a couple of double breaches by two big adult whales!

But the highlight was a pod of two whales that we spent quite a while with at the end of the cruise, a large adult with a slightly smaller juvenile. The adult did a lot of tail lobs, throwing her tail around on the water surface. Meanwhile the juvenile showed off a few very high full body breaches, almost clearing the water completely, one of which was less than 10 meters off the back of our boat!! To top it off, the pair were suddenly joined by a pod of about 10 or more bottlenose dolphins that raced in and had a good play around the whales and around our boat! They were surfing the waves, jumping out of the water, swimming right around the whales’ heads, while the two humpbacks were rolling around on the surface in the middle of them, clearly enjoying the games themselves!

It’s always so exciting to watch these two types of intelligent social animals (whales and dolphins) interacting with each other! The dolphins live here year round, so for them, the whales showing up only in the winter months are probably as much of a novelty and cause for excitement as they are for us each year!

  

Posted by Ben
Thursday, 7 August 2014
We made the news today..

We made the news today! We had an amazing encounter with three adult humpback whales mugging our vessel for well over an hour! Our engines were turned off and these whales were not going anywhere, just hanging around our boat, literally within touching distance for most of the time! They would surface on one side, stick their heads out, look at everyone, then dive under the boat and pop back up the other side to do the same! Our guests had a lot of fun, running from one side of the boat to the other, then down to the lower back deck and back upstairs for the best views! It was almost as if the whales were playing hide and seek with us, you never knew on which side they would pop up next!

For me, these sorts of sightings are always the most special, when the whales clearly want to spend time with us and are obviously interested in the boat and the people on it. It is completely on their terms and sometimes they stick their heads right out of the water and you can see the big eye looking at you – that still gives me goose bumps every time! Or as one of our guests today put it: “you feel like the whales are there for you, personally, looking at you individually!” Those sorts of eye-to-eye animal encounters are certainly very powerful and allow us to get a rare glimpse into the animal’s mind. Unfortunately it is impossible to know exactly what they are thinking, but it is very clear that they are – in fact – thinking.

I think if more people had these kinds of interactions with wild animals and realised that animals have personalities, show curiosity and awareness and are a lot more intelligent than we generally give them credit for, maybe we would start treating animals a lot better than we do.

          

             

Posted by Ben
Friday, 1 August 2014
A whale and dolphin party..

We saw five humpback whales today. One of them showed off a couple of high breaches as well. But probably the most exciting part of today’s cruise was a large pod of over 25 – 30 bottlenose dolphins that were having the time of their lives surfing waves and playing around our boat and around two big whales.

Dolphins of course are technically small whales. The whales, dolphins and porpoises are collectively known as the Cetaceans. They are split into two groups, the toothed whales (Odontocetes) and the baleen whales (Mysticetes). The toothed whales include all the dolphin species. As the name suggests they all have teeth in their mouths and they hunt fast-moving prey like fish or squid. That’s why they are generally smaller than the baleen whales as they need to be quick and manoeuvrable. The baleen whales on the other hand, like our humpback whales, don’t have teeth but rather baleen plates which are coarse bristly plates that hang down from the upper jaw. They act like a strainer or sieve when the whale is feeding. They use a technique called lunge feeding where they expand their throat and take in a huge gulp of water containing a swarm of small animals like krill or baitfish. Then they push the water back out of the mouth through the baleen which trap the small animals on the inside so the whale can swallow them without swallowing too much sea water at the same time.

It’s always really exciting to see dolphins and whales interacting with each other. They are both very intelligent animals and they certainly seem to be curious about each other and enjoying each others’ company. The whales today were rolling at the surface, lifting their heads up, while the dolphins (including a small calf) were zipping all around them. So much fun to watch!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Thursday, 31 July 2014
All sorts of behaviours..

Another amazing day today with a total of 12 humpback whales spotted showing off all sorts of different behaviours. We spent some time with a mother and juvenile who were doing lots of tail lobs and came quite close to the boat a few times before being joined by another adult and travelling on. Then we found a group of four big adults heading north past Cape Moreton. These four were travelling very fast towards the breeding grounds, probably three males chasing a female, jostling for position behind her to be the closest to her when she’s ready to mate.

And to finish off an already fantastic day we then came across several pods in one area that were all breaching! We had two whales right next to the boat, continuously jumping out of the water at least 20 times, with another whale further off responding with high breaches as well. We even had a double breach with two whales jumping out at the same time! They certainly seemed to be communicating or signalling to each other. For us it was like watching fireworks, all these different pods all around, all splashing and breaching! Absolutely breathtaking to watch!

Eco Ranger Ina 

Posted by Ben
 
 
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