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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, 22 September 2015
Whales in the Bay

We didn’t have to go far today, we spotted our first humpback whales right off Tangalooma Resort! It was a mother and calf pair and they were resting. The humpback whales tend to travel along the outside or ocean-side of Moreton Island which is why we usually have to make our way out to the northern end of the island to meet them as they come past. But during the last stage of the season, in September and October, we do sometimes encounter them inside Moreton Bay. Mostly it tends to be mothers with young calves that we see in the bay. They use these sheltered waters as a resting area.

When female humpback whales give birth, it is quite a strain on them! The mother has to travel 8,000 km north from Antarctica to the warm waters of the tropics, where she gives birth to a 1-tonne-baby. Then that baby drinks over 200 litres of milk from her every day! And the mother still has to travel another 8,000 km back south before she starts eating again (they do all their feeding in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, they don’t eat at all during migration or breeding!). It has been found that females that go through a breeding cycle actually lose about one third of their own body weight during that season!! So as you can imagine, they need a lot of rest stops along the way back south and they use sheltered bays like Moreton Bay for this purpose.

This mother today certainly seemed to be fast asleep! So we left them in peace and headed north, only to come across another mother-calf pair plus another adult just south of Bulwer, still inside the bay! These three were a bit more active and actually came straight to our bow, where the big adult lifted its head right up out of the water and had a good look at us! You could see the large eyes above the surface, looking at you! These kinds of encounters still give me goose bumps, when the whales are obviously as interested in us as we are in them!

Eco Ranger Ina


Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Monday, 21 September 2015
Whale Social Life

We got an interesting glimpse into the social life of our humpback whales today. As we rounded the North-western corner of Moreton Island we found a pair of whales in quite shallow water. It was a large adult and a smaller juvenile whale, possibly a mother with a one- or two-year old calf. The pair were just resting, cruising along very slowly.

But after a while the large female suddenly started rolling on the surface and repeatedly slapping her big pectoral flippers onto the water. Almost immediately we noticed another whale, about 500m away suddenly start splashing around as well, slapping its tail onto the water. This newcomer, a smaller juvenile or young adult, then started making a bee-line straight to our original pair, but just as it was about to join them, the original juvenile suddenly charged at the new one and chased him off! While the mum continued pec slapping, the new whale hung around them and kept making approaches towards them. Suddenly another two whales, also fairly small adults or juveniles, came into the area and all started chasing the large female. This caused her to start lunging through the water fast, breaching several times, and at one point actually charging straight towards our boat and diving underneath, maybe in an effort to get away?

It was a bit hard to interpret exactly what was going on, but the female certainly appeared quite agitated by the approaches of the other whales. Maybe they were three young males, hoping to mate with her. Either way, it made for some spectacular photo opportunities for us today!

Eco Ranger Ina



Posted by Tangalooma Marine
Tuesday, 8 September 2015
Double Breach

Today’s whale watch had a bit of everything. We spent the first half of it with a mother and calf pair of humpback whales, in fact our first southbound mother and calf pair for this year! We’re now finally getting into the last part of the migration season, when the mothers return from the breeding grounds with their new babies from this year. The little one would have been about a month or two old and spent quite a lot of time taking long deep dives underneath mum, most likely nursing! Whales are mammals just like us, so their young drink milk. Whale milk is the second fattiest in the animal kingdom (after that of seals) – ten times fattier than the cow’s milk we drink and it has the consistency of toothpaste! A baby humpback whale, like the one we saw today, can drink over 200 litres of milk every single day!! They will nurse for up to a year to 18 months and stay by mum’s side for up to two years. During that time the calf learns important behaviour from the mother, such as the migratory route they travel each year as well as feeding and social behaviours.

After that we made our way a bit further out to catch up with another whale that we had noticed breaching in the distance. We got lucky and he/she breached a few more times once we got closer, before being joined by another two individuals.  We then got treated to a double breach with two of the whales breaching together at the same time, before they all continued on their journey! Double breaches are very rare and certainly impressive to see!

Eco Ranger Ina



Posted by Tangalooma Marine
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
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