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Monday, September 30, 2013
The Season so far...

We have had an absolutely incredible whale watching season so far, with record numbers of humpback whales travelling along the East coast of Australia this year! On our Tangalooma whale watch cruises we have already seen over 600 individual humpback whales so far! We are now well into the southern migration, so we’re now seeing lots of young calves as well, making their way back to Antarctica from the breeding grounds off northern Queensland alongside their mothers. These youngsters are around a month or so old and full of energy, treating our whale watch guests to fantastic displays of continuous breaching, tail lobbing or flipper slapping.
My personal highlight this year was a memorable encounter with a young male humpback whale who came straight up to us and then spent almost an hour with us. He would dive straight under the boat and then slowly stick his head out from underneath the bow, spyhop to have a good look at people or blow straight in our faces! Or he’d position himself vertically in the water right next to the boat, lifting his tail out of the water and slowly rotate his body like a pirouette… He basically showed us every behaviour in the book, including a full-body breach!
But it hasn’t been just humpbacks, we’ve also seen four species of dolphins (inshore bottlenose, offshore bottlenose, common and humpback dolphins), lots of turtles, sea birds and plenty of other marine life out there! That’s the great thing about whale watching, you never know what you might encounter out there!

Posted by Ben
Friday, September 27, 2013
Whales and Dolphins all in one day

Today we got three species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in one sighting! We were watching a humpback whale mother and calf pair in the shallow waters just northeast of Comboyuro Point when all of a sudden a pod of six common dolphins raced in out of nowhere! They came straight up to the bow of our boat to bow ride – they really seem to love the Tangalooma Jet! Something about the way the two sharp pointed keels stick out and cut through the water at the front, maybe? Unfortunately for them we were not moving very fast since we were watching whales right next to us, so the common dolphins only hung around for a few short minutes before getting bored (no bow riding here!) and racing off. The group included a mother with a small calf though and it was quite amazing to watch the baby common dolphin effortlessly keep up with its mum – they are so fast!

Within a minute of the common dolphins disappearing off to one side, a pod of around 10 to 15 inshore bottlenose dolphins appeared! These guys stuck around for quite a while but they were not interested in our bow, instead they went straight up to the humpback whale pair! For a good 20 to 30 minutes we watched as the dolphins zipped around the whales, bow riding in front of their heads and playing around them! The whale calf seemed to really enjoy their company! It was rolling around at the surface, approaching the dolphins, stretching its big flippers out towards them… At one point we even saw it gently nudge one of the dolphins in the side with its big rostrum! Just beautiful to watch these two intelligent species interacting like that, obviously enjoying each others company!

Kind Regards,
Eco Ranger Ina
Tangalooma Marine Education & Conservation Centre

Posted by Ben
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Feeding calf

More and more calves out on the whale watch today, and plenty of whales inside Moreton Bay as well! We headed out and came across three separate pods of whales, with the third pod being a mother and calf. The mother was resting at the surface and it was apparent that the calf was drinking her milk as it was staying underwater for extended periods and coming up to breath right next to her side. Moreton Bay is an important resting site for many humpback whales during their migration, and they use the sheltered and relatively shallow waters as a safe haven to rest for a short period until they continue on with their migration.

We headed out around Yellow Patch and came upon three more pods of whales, two of these being mother calf pairs. We were over some shallow sand banks and they approached us quite close, which allowed us to see them in nice detail. After leaving these pods we found another mother calf pair near North point, and the calf was quite playful, showing us some tail slaps, tail lobbing and a little breach. Great to see so many calves out and about, a good sign for our humpback whale population here on the east coast!

Eco Ranger Pat

Posted by Ben
Monday, September 23, 2013
Energetic calves

Another great day of whale watching today with again plenty of mother and calf pairs of humpback whales around. Just like what we’ve been seeing over the past few days, the young calves are all really active and playful. We saw lots of splashing around again today, with breaches, tail slaps, pectoral slaps all around us. The mothers seem to be mostly resting and travelling slowly. I suppose that’s fair enough when you think about the strain breeding puts on them. These humpback whales feed only in Antarctica but not during migration or on the breeding grounds (except for very rare opportunistic feeding events if they happen to come across a big school of baitfish). So these whale mothers have already travelled 8,000 km north from Antarctica to northern Queensland, then given birth to a 5-metre baby, now that baby is drinking between 200 and 600 litres of milk from mum every day, and they still have another 8,000 km to go back South before they start eating again! These mothers end up burning through much of their fat and energy reserves that they’ve built up over the summer months in Antarctica. They actually lose around one third of their body weight during that breeding season! Guess they don’t have to worry about baby weight…

As for the youngsters – just like human kids they seem to have an overabundance of energy and sometimes you are reminded of human mothers trying to chase after their over-active kids. I do often feel for those whale mothers that would probably love nothing more than a baby sitter, while they have a rest and some peace and quiet. But for us whale watchers of course it doesn’t get much better than an active humpback whale calf breaching, breaching, breaching over and over!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Mother and calf day out!

Wowsers, so many mothers and calves around now! Coming around Comboyuro Point, the northwestern corner of Moreton Island, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by six separate pods of humpback whales in all directions off the boat, most of them were mother and calf pairs making their way south towards Moreton Bay or east along the northern coast of Moreton Island. We spent a while with a mother, calf and escort who were quite social, rolling around at the surface a fair bit.

After a while we were distracted by lots of splashing in the distance so made our way east to find another mother and calf pair. This youngster was breaching repeatedly, every couple of minutes. At the same time we could see another two pods off in the distance that also had breaching calves amongst them. Most of the mothers seemed to just be resting or travelling slowly whereas the calves were very active and playful, possibly signaling to each other with their little breaches. It felt like playtime at whale kindy!

To top off all this action, we even had a visit from a small pod of four common dolphins that came right up to bow ride. Always great to see these deeper water species which people don’t often encounter this close to shore! They are such beautiful animals with the yellow patch on their sides glowing in the sun. Between the fast moving common dolphins and the breaching baby whale, it was hard to decide where to look!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Monday, September 16, 2013
A whale party

Today was one of those days where there were humpback whales literally everywhere! It almost seemed like they were having a get-together at Flinders Reef! We saw four pods, a total of ten whales all in the same area, right next to the reef, all socializing with each other, and none of them seemed to be going anywhere. Normally most of the whales we see here are travelling in a fairly straight line North or South on their migratory route. But these ones were just hanging out in the one spot, chasing each other around, breaching, approaching our boat to have a close look, pectoral slapping… It certainly made our work easy as we just had to sit and watch and were treated to a great show!

When we turned towards home we encountered another pod of five whales, one of them breaching, another pectoral slapping. And further on we spotted a mother and calf pair that were both tail slapping together. Maybe the mum was actively teaching the behavior to the calf or the calf was just imitating her. The big tail and little tail rising out of the water together was a great sight!

Once again I am reminded how lucky we are to see so many whales around here again these days! When Tangalooma started running whale watch cruises in the late 1990s, they actually needed a spotter plane to fly out and find whales for them. And if you saw ONE whale back then, it was a great day, two whales in a day was incredibly special! Now, only 16 years later, we see whales every day, sometimes up to 20-30 individuals in the one day (depending on their behaviours and how long we stay with each pod), and have the luxury of picking and chosing amongst different pods around. We are so lucky and have to remember not to take our whales for granted and that we had almost lost them for good back in the 1960s when commercial whaling ended!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Migaloo watch..

We are now officially on Migaloo watch! Today we were joined by Phil and Tim from Channel 9 News for the whale watch cruise, who were hoping to catch a glimpse (and video footage) of the famous albino humpback whale! Migaloo was last spotted up around Cairns a few weeks ago and is expected to be passing through this area here sometime within the next week or two on his way back South towards Antarctica. Last year we were lucky enough to spot the big “white fella” just off Cape Moreton during our cruise on September 26th. Scientists have found that individual humpback whales (at least mature males) tend to migrate at very much the same time every year and are typically seen in the same place within a few days of the same date each year. So Migaloo should be passing us again around the same time (late September) as last year.

Seeing him last year was an amazing experience! He is just SO white, you can see his turquoise outline glowing underwater from a distance away and he looks like an iceberg when he surfaces! There are now a few reports of other white or mostly white humpback whales. Two of them have been spotted in the northern hemisphere, in the Arctic, last year. And there is another mostly white whale, nicknamed “Baloo” here in our population, but he does have a few black spots near his tail. Migaloo is still the only confirmed albino whale in the world.

Albinism is a very rare genetic disorder. For a calf to be born as an albino, both its mother and father must have been carrying the albinism gene and passed it on to the baby. That in itself is quite a rare event. But even if it does occur, the chances of that white baby to survive to adulthood are low as well. “Normal” humpback whales do have that black and white colour pattern for a reason – it’s actually a form of camouflage and makes them blend in with the surroundings. But a bright white calf sticks out like a sore thumb and would be an obvious target for predators such as killer whales or large sharks. I guess Migaloo must have had a very good mum to get him through that vulnerable phase of his life!

Well we didn’t end up spotting him today (plenty of other humpback whales around though!) but we’re certainly going to keep an eye out for him over the next couple of weeks!!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Friday, September 13, 2013
A tiny baby whale!

An absolutely spectacular display by the humpback whales today! We got to see a range of pods and behaviours!

We came across the first pair of whales just North of Tangalooma Resort. They were travelling past Cowan Cowan. After a few minutes of watching them, we were joined by a small pod of about five cheeky bottlenose dolphins that had a great time racing around the whales and bowriding in front of them when they surfaced. Always so much fun to watch dolphins and whales interacting and playing together like that!

Moving on to the northern end of the island, we then came across a large humpback whale that seemed to just be sitting motionless at the surface in quite shallow waters. Worried that something might be wrong with it, we approached a bit closer. Suddenly we noticed the tiny baby whale sitting right next to the tip of its mother’s big rostrum / head!! It was the smallest humpback calf I have seen so far, still milky white and light grey in colour and its dorsal fin was all floppy and curved over. It was definitely a newborn, probably no more than a day or two old! The little one was just resting at the surface, probably still a bit too weak for much swimming . But it was breathing regularly and seemed fine otherwise. It stayed very close to its mum’s head the whole time, probably for comfort and protection. As we didn’t want to disturb the new mother and bub, we soon left them alone, wishing them all the best!

We finished off this already very special afternoon with another pod of five humpback whales that we had seen splashing around at a distance. As we got closer we were treated to an absolutely amazing display! Three of the whales were continuously tail and flipper slapping, all together at the same time. Meanwhile the other two were showing off some really high full-body breaches! It was like fireworks going off everywhere! The pod split after a while, with the three tail slapping ones staying in the same spot while the two breachers started making their way south. We followed the latter two and were rewarded with many more spectacular breaches, sometimes both at the same time! It almost looked like they were having a competition to see who could jump higher or make the biggest splash! Simply breathtaking to watch!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Pats pick of the season!

Today was a really special day out on the whale watch. We had some amazingly curious humpbacks and it was definitely a day to remember! We found our first pod of three whales and went a bit closer to check them out. Just as we did, they turned straight towards us and made it amazingly easy for us. For about 15 minutes we just turned the engine off and floated around as two of the whales continually came up close by around the boat. They almost appeared to be using the boat for some shade from the hot sun! We watched as they pirouetted and twisted under water, showing off the details of their amazing size and beauty! It was a truly memorable experience, probably my favorite for the season so far!

After fifteen minutes they decided to keep going their own way and we decided to try our luck with another pod of 2 whales nearby. These ones were surprisingly still heading north at this late stage of the season. They seemed pretty keen to get north (probably were rushing their migration), so we got a quick look of them coming fairly close to the boat and let them continue in peace. As we headed back south we came upon the same pod of two as earlier. They dived underwater quite a while ahead of us and we were expecting to see them come up again out in front, but they came up right next to us! It was very surprising, and they hung around the boat for another few minutes, showing off with a breach, tail lob and some tail slaps. After that they went off and we decided to go for a quick cruise close to the Cape and through honeymoon bay. We saw two turtles and a big pod of bottlenose dolphins, a great way to top it all off! What a day, plenty of good action and one to remember!

Eco Ranger Pat

Posted by Ben
Monday, September 9, 2013
Perfect conditions!

What an absolutely gorgeous day out on the whale watch today! After the windy days we had last week, it has dropped right down now and today was just glassy calm waters and beautiful sunshine. We made the most of the perfect conditions and made a slow pass by Curtain Artificial Reef on the way out to the whale watching grounds. Curtain Reef is located halfway between Cowan Cowan and Bulwer and was created by the sinking of trams from Brisbane City as well as a number of different shipwrecks, including two of the old whaling vessels from Tangalooma Whaling Station, and even car wreckages, concrete pipes and tires. All these structures provide hard surfaces for coral and other marine life to settle and grow on and the place has turned into a stunning artificial reef now and a popular dive spot. It is absolutely teeming with marine life and we spotted around 30-40 sea turtles as we passed by the reef! Several of them were very close to our boat so we could get great looks at them, even clearly see them swimming along under water. Just beautiful!

We also spotted several pods of inshore bottlenose dolphins today, as well as a total of seven humpback whales. The first two were a pair of adults, travelling together. Then we came across a mother and calf pair plus escort making their way East along the northern end of Moreton Island. And to finish off we found a very active pair of an adult and juvenile (possibly a mother with a calf from a year or two ago). They were continuously tail lobbing and tail slapping and even showed off two big breaches for us.

Again Moreton Bay’s marine life put on a spectacular display for us today!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Ina's favourite part of the whale watch season!

It’s the start of September and it looks like we’re now into my favourite par t of the whale season: the time when the mothers return from the breeding grounds with their new young calves. We saw our first south-bound humpback mum and calf yesterday and started today off with another pair.

When humpback whale calves are first born, they are three to five metres long and weigh over a ton. Sounds like a big baby, right? Well, not in whale terms! They are actually quite skinny because they are not born with the protective blubber layer that keeps grown up whales warm and insulated in the cold southern oceans. That’s of course the reason why they give birth in warmer waters in the first place. And it also means that the baby has to put on weight quickly to be ready for the journey back South with its mum. Generally the females with newborns stay in the warm tropical waters for a while (maybe a month or two) before slowly starting to head back south. This gives the calf time to build up some energy and fat reserves. Being mammals like us, the babies drink milk from their mothers. Whale milk is the second fattiest in the animal kingdom (after seal milk) – about ten times fattier than the cows’ milk you and I drink. It actually has the consistency of tooth paste! And a baby humpback whale can drink up to 600 L of this very fatty milk EVERY SINGLE DAY! Obviously that allows it to put on weight very quickly. They actually double in size in the first year of their lives!

So when they reach our waters here, the young calves are usually around a month or two old and have already built up a bit of energy. At this stage they are usually very active, practicing all their surface behaviours like breaching, tail lobbing and so on. And they’re generally not as shy as the really young newborns, in fact they are starting to get very curious and often come very close to our boat to have a look.

So it’s the perfect time for us to meet them and watch their playful antics!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
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