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Sunday, October 27, 2013
That's a wrap..

Well that’s the 2013 whale watch season done and dusted. We finished off our last cruise for the year with a mother and calf pair of humpback whales and a number of other marine animals, including two manta rays just in the shallow waters around Cape Moreton and a pod of common dolphins that came racing in to ride our waves.

 It has been a record breaking season for humpback whales. We saw a grand total of 761 individual whales over the course of the four and a half month season! This is our new record, last year we had just under 700 whales. It’s absolutely fantastic to see their numbers increasing every year! With all the threats our oceans are facing, habitat destruction, fish stocks declining everywhere, the loss of a million sea birds every year and many other species becoming endangered, it is so nice to see a conservation success story for a change! Humpback whales were almost wiped out by commercial hunting in these very waters, there were less than 300 animals left in the population. But thanks to international agreements to protect them and a lot of pressure from the general public for countries to abide by these agreements, our whales have been able to recover to over 17,000 individuals now. And I’m sure the many thousands of whale watchers that enjoy their spectacular displays around Australia every year feel blessed and thankful for this. There’s nothing quite like seeing a massive 45-ton whale launch itself clear out of the water, and pirouetting gracefully in the air before falling back onto the surface with a noise like a cannon shot…

As our whales are now well on their way back to Antarctica, we wish them a safe journey and full bellies throughout the feeding season! We look forward to welcoming them back to our waters next year! And maybe next year we’ll set another record and break the 800 !?

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Calm day on the bay

A stunningly beautiful calm day today and an incredible amount of marine life out and about! We saw eight humpback whales, including three calves. And with the perfect conditions we were able to visit all of our favourite spots to look for other wildlife as well. We got very close to Flinders Reef and were able to see the outline and structure of the reef below the calm water surface. Several green, loggerhead and even hawksbill turtles were popping up all around us and we could see big schools of fish cruising past. In the shallows off Cape Moreton we found around 20-30 bottlenose dolphins, some of them came over to ride our wake. On the way home we passed by Curtain Artificial Reef where we saw a few more turtles and dolphins as well.

There were huge numbers of sea birds around as well today, in particular hundreds of short-tailed shearwaters. We’ve been finding a lot of these shearwaters (also known as muttonbirds) washing up dead on the beaches in the past week. These guys are migratory sea birds, they fly in huge flocks of hundreds of individuals and they travel thousands of kilometers from as far away as northern Russia to breed around south-eastern Australia. Unfortunately, with fish stocks declining around the world, they are not finding enough food anymore, so when they get here they are quite weak and exhausted from the long journey. And when they get caught in storms or strong winds like we’ve had over the past week or so, they simply can’t cope. Finding so many of them starving has been sad, so it was good to see a lot of them flying around and catching fish today!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Humpback showoffs

We found our first mother and calf pair of humpback whales just North of Cowan Cowan today and they put on a fantastic show for us! Both of them were breaching as we got there, sometimes even synchronously! Seeing both a large mother and little baby whale breaching together at the same time is truly an awesome sight! Mum eventually settled down into travelling mode but the calf kept breaching or waving its pectoral flippers at us. Eventually they moved on to the shallow sandbank and at one point came right up to our boat for a close look, providing us with some great views of them swimming underwater alongside us. What a great first sighting to start off our cruise!

Throughout the rest of the afternoon we found another six pods of humpback whales, for a total of thirteen whales including four calves. On top of that we saw a pod of bottlenose dolphins with a tiny little newborn calf, probably no more than a few weeks old. Bottlenose dolphin calves are born tail first like all other whales and dolphins, and have to make their way straight up to the surface for their first breath. Often another dolphin, maybe a close female relative of the mother, will be nearby to help push the newborn up to the surface. For the first couple of weeks the young calves are still quite uncoordinated and their swimming and surfacing attempts look quite awkward: they seem to just pop up to the surface like a cork! Very cute!

On the way home we made a slow pass by Curtain Artificial Reef and were rewarded with a very rare sighting of two large sea turtles that were mating! Male sea turtles have hooks on their front flippers which they use to hook onto the female’s shell for mating.

Finishing off with another breaching humpback whale calf just off Tangalooma resort, we returned with a boatload of very happy people!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Variety of marine life

Today was another day with plenty of whales and other marine life. Our first pod of whales consisted of two mother-calf pairs that we spotted breaching and tail slapping from a distance. They were located between us and the Glasshouse Mountains, it sure made for an amazing backdrop to the action!

We headed north and came across four different pods of whales, some coming close to the boat and some sitting on the shallow sand banks. We then headed towards Flinder’s Reef and spotted another very active pair in the distance. It was another mother-calf pair, and they both were very active. We saw plenty of breaches, and the calf was tail slapping in a different manner, holding its tail nice and high and slapping it down from side to side. As we got close the mother launched up for a big breach, but after this they calmed down. We went for a quick look at Flinder’s Reef and found a few green sea turtles around, as well as a few dolphins.

Next we headed to Cape Moreton, and found a mother-calf pair close to the Cape, and this calf was nice and active, showing plenty of breaches. As this was happening, two green sea turtles came up between the boat and the whales. A great day today with plenty of variety, 20 whales with 7 being calves, plenty of green sea turtles and a few bottlenose dolphins as well!

Eco Ranger Pat

Posted by Ben
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Best day so far!

Today was definitely my best day out on the whale watch so far for this season, absolutely incredible! As we passed Bulwer we spotted a mother-calf pair, soon finding two more mother-calf pairs nearby. They weren’t very active, so we decided to keep going, but as we started to move on, one of the mothers launched out of the water for a full body breach, and her calf followed shortly after. This sparked the calves in the other two pods to do the same and for the next twenty minutes we enjoyed plenty of breaches from the nearby calves.

As we got around to the whale watching grounds, we found another mother-calf pair, and this calf was unreal! For forty minutes the calf was constantly alternating between breaching, tail lobbing and pectoral flipper slapping, and it all happened very close to the boat. Really amazing how much energy this calf had, it just didn’t give up!  

We went for a quick cruise around Flinder’s Reef afterwards and we spotted six different green sea turtles coming up to breathe. It is quite amazing how much life can be found around Flinder’s Reef, and its even better that it’s a green zone. With no fishing or collecting allowed around the reef, it acts as a very important refuge for many marine animals from the impacts of humans.

We then went down towards Cape Moreton, and spotted another two mother-calf pairs, with very active breaching calves. On the way back we spotted three more pods, which were all quite active. That brought us to a total of 21 whales for the day, with 10 of them being calves! Absolutely amazing! 

Eco Ranger Pat

Posted by Ben
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Mother & calf pairs everywhere!

It is just incredible how many calves are present on the whale watches at the moment! Today we came across 11 whales, with three of them being calves. The first pod we came across was just off Comboyuro Point, and it was a mother-calf pair, with the mother resting and the calf playing on the surface, showing us many tail lobs. Next we found a pod of three whales on a shallow sand bank, which was a great opportunity to see them in detail underwater. Again it was a mother-calf pair, and the third whale could have possibly been a male escort. The next whales we found were a group of three adult whales, and their movements were very unpredictable, swimming around in all directions. It is likely that this was a mating pursuit, with the two males chasing after the female to try and mate with her.

The final pod we found was another mother-calf pair, just off Cape Moreton, and the calf was extremely active. We watched this calf for a good fifteen minutes and it was constantly breaching and pectoral flipper slapping. A few of these breaches were full body breaches, and it was amazing to see so many of them. A great way to finish off the day, we all were very happy with the final active calf!

Eco Ranger Pat

Posted by Ben
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Active calves

Another beautiful day of whale watching with a total of 13 whales sighted, including five young calves. We saw our first two pods in the bay, just north of Tangalooma. Both were mother and calf pairs and both were having a rest in the sheltered waters of Moreton Bay. They were moving slowly, staying underwater for long dives, probably having a snooze. So we left them to it and continued on to the northern end of Moreton Island to find some more active whales.

We were not disappointed, as we came across a pod of four, a mother with young calf and two other adults, who appeared to be males that were attempting to court the mother. There was a lot of rolling around at the surface, several breaches by the calf, and a few big taillobs by an adult, possibly the female trying to ward off her suitors. One of the presumed males was seen swimming with his throat expanded, probably having taken in a big gulp of water. That’s one of their strategies to impress the female or fend off their competitor by making themselves look bigger. Another strategy we have often seen is for the primary male (the one closest to the female) to give off a stream of bubbles through his blow hole underwater. This effectively forms a screen, obstructing the other male’s vision or confusing him. At one point we saw two of the adults swimming sideways at the surface, belly to belly. Quite possibly they were mating!

After this pod had settled down a bit we moved on and found another two mother and calf pairs (one with an escort). One of the calves was particularly active and showed us many very high breaches (almost completely clearing the water!) and even came up for a close look at our boat before displaying another big breach right off our bow! A perfect finish for a fantastic day!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
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