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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. 

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
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
 
 
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