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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. 

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
Wednesday, 30 July 2014
"He made a beeline straight towards us!"

Today’s whale watch was very special... We often get humpback whales come over to the boat to check us out, they are very curious animals. But it’s not often that they then hang around for over one hour, interacting with us and people watching just as much as we’re whale watching!

That’s what happened today! We had barely made it to the northern end of Moreton Island before these two whales spotted us and made a beeline straight towards us! It was a mother with a two- or three-year-old youngster and they were VERY interested in us. They swum up to within touching distance of the boat and stayed with us for over an hour! We just sat still with our engines off, while they swam around us in slow circles, looking at us from all angles, sticking their heads above the water (a behaviour called spyhopping), turning on their sides at the surface to look at us.... it was just incredible! These whales have highly developed senses such as eye sight and hearing – they can see and hear us very clearly above as well as below the water. They also have so-called tubercles which are the bumps you can see on their heads. Each one of those bumps contains a single hair follicle and these are sensory hairs just like the whiskers of a cat. So they can probably feel things like water temperature, water pressure, currents etc. And when spyhopping or sticking their heads above the water they can probably also feel wind speed, air temperature and things like that. Maybe they also pick up the vibrations of our boat and get intrigued by those?

Whatever it was, we certainly captured the attention of these two whales and for us it was a very special experience to interact with an intelligent, curious animal that size for such a long time!

Eco Ranger Ina 

Posted by Ben
Saturday, 26 July 2014
Good luck little fella..

We see humpback whales every day we go out whale watching, but you never know what you will see in terms of behaviours displayed by those whales. Well today’s cruise had everything! We had a couple of very close approaches, with two big adult whales swimming up to the boat and right under the bow to have a good look at us. We had a young whale breaching and showing off for us. And we even saw our first baby whale of this season!

Humpback whale babies are already 3-5m long when they are born and already weigh over a ton. But they are actually quite skinny (for a whale!) as they are not born with the protective blubber layer which insulates the adults and keeps them warm even in the cold southern ocean around Antarctica. That’s why these whales migrate north, to give birth in the warmer tropical waters, because the calves would not survive if they were born in Antarctic waters. Female humpbacks are pregnant for around one year and they give birth to the baby while on the breeding grounds off northern Queensland.  So usually we see the young calves a little bit later in the season, from about mid to late August, when the mothers are starting to make their way back South towards Antarctica. But occasionally we get newborn calves in July that were just born a little bit too early, while the mother is still on the way north towards the breeding season. Those little newborns like the one we saw today are very small, really just like a big dolphin. They are often a lighter grey in colour and often still have a floppy folded over dorsal fin. The fins are very soft and curled up when the baby whales are born and then straighten out within a few days. Today’s little one still had a slightly bent over dorsal fin so I’m guessing he wasn’t more than a week or two old. Very cute! Mum was certainly quite protective, staying very close to the baby’s side.

Good luck little fella, hope to see you again in a few months on the way back South!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
Friday, 25 July 2014
Barely a ripple to be seen..

Absolutely magical conditions for our whale watch today! The water was calm as glass, barely a ripple to be seen. We found our first two humpback whales off the northern end of the island and they turned out to be juveniles heading South. But on our approach they stopped and decided to come over and check us out. We turned the engines off and the pair came right up, within 5 metres of our boat, swimming around us, looking at us from all sides. Thanks to the glassy clear water we could get amazing views of the whole whales swimming just under the surface, which was just spectacular! When you’re able to see the whole length of the body rather than just the back and dorsal fin popping above the surface, it gives you a real appreciation of their size! Humpbacks are the fifth largest of the great whales at up to 15m length. Our vessel is 20m so not a whole lot bigger than a fully grown whale!

Then we continued on to Cape Moreton and found a small pod of five bottlenose dolphins, including a tiny calf, maybe only a few months old. There are quite a lot of dolphins living in the Moreton Bay area with over 600 bottlenose dolphins found in the bay and probably other large populations off the outside of the island. This group were just cruising slowly in the shallows so we could have a nice close look at them before moving on to find a few more whales. Four more whales and a quick pass by Flinders Reef rounded up a spectacular day out off the northern end of Moreton Island for a boatful of happy whale watchers. 

Posted by Ben
Thursday, 24 July 2014
A perfect day..

We didn’t have to travel far today, we already met our first humpback whale just off Cowan Cowan, just north of  the Tangalooma Wrecks! It was a young juvenile whale on his own. He showed off a few high breaches followed by some tail lobs and tail and pectoral flipper slaps. Then he came over for a really close look at us, swimming past the stern and alongside our boat for a few minutes before moving on.

As we continued to head up to the northern end of the island we came across lots of sea birds, feeding on large schools of baitfish off the northern beach and also around Flinders Reef. There were several Australasian gannets, crested and Caspian terns, cormorants and even two ospreys amongst them. It’s always nice to see so many sea birds feeding, as they are doing it quite tough these days. It’s estimated we’re losing about 1 million sea and shore birds every year, mostly because they are not finding enough food anymore, with fish stocks declining, due to overfishing and pollution.

Between Flinders and Cape Moreton we also found a few other pods of humpback whales, most still travelling North while a few juveniles already seemed to be heading back South towards Antarctica. So we are now coming towards the end of the northern migration towards the breeding grounds off Northern Queensland, and over the next few weeks we will be seeing more and more whales returning on their way back South towards Antarctica. That’s generally the time where we also see more whales entering Moreton Bay, like our first sighting today off Cowan Cowan, as opposed to on the way North when they mostly travel along the outside of Moreton Island. This is great for us as it means we get to watch their antics in the nice sheltered waters of the bay and don’t have to spend as much time travelling to find whales. In other words, now is the perfect time to come out for a whale watching cruise!

Posted by Ben
Wednesday, 23 July 2014
Turtles Mating..

Quite a lot of marine wildlife out and about today for our whale watching cruise – we saw six humpback whales, about 30-40 inshore bottlenose dolphins, a big loggerhead turtle came up next to our boat, lots of gannets flying around feeding on baitfish, and we even saw a pair of green turtles mating at the surface of the water!

Moreton Bay really is quite a spectacular place for whale watching; you never know what you will find out here! We are located in an area of overlap between temperate and tropical zones so we’re getting both warm water habitats and species from further North as well as cool water habitats and animals from further South. We’re also quite close to where the continental shelf drops off into much deeper water just offshore of Cape Moreton, so we often see more deep-water oceanic animals as well. These factors make the Moreton Bay area incredibly diverse in terms of numbers of species found here.

That’s why Moreton Bay is protected as a marine national park. The marine park is managed as a multiple use area using a zoning system. So certain areas are fully protected green zones, habitat protection zones, or special protected zones for dugongs or other endangered animals. Other parts of the bay are open for commercial as well as recreational uses such as fishing and boating. So the management of the marine park is obviously up to rangers and policy makers but also up to each and every one of us, to use it responsibly and look after this delicate ecosystem.

We can all do our bit by putting rubbish in the bin and reducing it in the first place by reusing and recycling. Also fish responsibly, putting discarded hooks and lines in the bin, not in the water and keeping an eye out for animals around you to avoid accidentally hooking birds, dolphins or other wildlife. And if you like your boating or jetskiing, keep a good eye out for wildlife and slow down especially in areas like shallow sandbanks where dugongs and turtles live.

Posted by Ben
Sunday, 6 July 2014
Humpbacks vs Orcas

Today we spent a lot of time in the company of three humpback whales, two big adults and a young juvenile, probably only a year old. When we first met them they were with another two whales which then split off and travelled on, while these three showed quite a lot of interest in us. They came within touching distance of the boat several times, or diving right underneath us, checking us out from all angles. The youngster in particular seemed very curious and he also displayed a few interesting behaviours such as tail lobbing, rolling at the surface and pectoral flipper waving.

The juvenile had quite distinct colouration and markings on his body, being slightly lighter grey in colour than the adults (indicating that he was still quite young). He also had a lot of scars and scratches on his body, especially on the tail fluke and dorsal fin, including some very prominent rake marks. Rake marks are very typical parallel scars that look a bit like if you had pulled a rake across the skin. They are very distinct from the half-moon-shaped scars left by shark bites. Instead, rake marks are generally caused by dolphin teeth, in this case by one of the larger dolphin species, probably orca. Orcas, also known as killer whales, are actually the largest of the dolphin species and one of the few animals that would actually prey on large marine mammals like whales. A big healthy adult whale doesn’t really have natural predators, but a young one or a sick / injured one would certainly be a target for a pod of orcas. Orcas hunt in groups, a little bit like a wolf pack, and have been known to attack whale calves, generally after a very long chase that involves separating the calf from the mother.

While we don’t usually see orcas in these waters, there have been several anecdotal reports of them being spotted in the area. Especially 60 years ago, in the early whaling years, when they were seen a lot more frequently, following the humpback whales which were plentiful back then. They probably stopped using this area after the humpback population crashed, due to whaling. So it will be interesting to see whether we will start seeing more orcas again now that the humpbacks are recovering so well!

The young humpback we met today, certainly seems to have encountered them, though luckily managed to get away with only a few scars to tell the tale!

Regards,
Eco Ranger Ina
Tangalooma Marine Education & Conservation Centre

   

 

Posted by Ben
Saturday, 5 July 2014
Whale Interaction

Wow, the whales made our job super easy today... We had barely started looking for them when we came across a mother and juvenile (probably around 2 years old), that were giving each other a run for their money in terms of displays! They were both breaching, tail slapping, inverted tail slapping, tail lobbing, pectoral flipper waving... at one point the female was lying on her back, lifting her tail high in the air for inverted tail slaps, while at the same time the juvenile lifted its head above the water, looking at us, then rolling over and waving a pectoral flipper... all of this right next to the boat! Just an incredible display and some amazing photo opportunities!

We tend to think these behaviours are probably a form of communication for the whales and certainly see that in a lot of cases, for example when they breach to attract other whales to them and then swim on as a group... but in this case, the pair swam right up to our boat, then stayed there and continued to display all these amazing behaviours for a good 20 minutes or so, quite obviously directed at us. It was like they were showing off, then stuck their heads up to check if we were watching, before continuing their antics! While it can be hard to interpret exactly what their motive may be, you can’t help but feel that they are having fun and enjoying the interaction with us!

Regards,
Eco Ranger Ina
Tangalooma Marine Education & Conservation Centre

   

   

Posted by Ben
Wednesday, 2 July 2014
Record Whale Watching

I think we set a new record today as we reached a total of 17 humpback whales! We saw six different pods, all of different sizes, displaying different behaviours. We had a couple of pods of 3 and 4 whales that were travelling along, then joined up together, followed by some rolling around at the surface, before splitting up into two pods again. Then we watched a pair of adults travelling North, before coming across a big group of 5 adults that were chasing each other, moving quite fast (probably 4 males chasing a female). And just when we were about to head home we found a small juvenile whale that was really active, head lunging and breaching many times in a row. Most of his breaches were very high, clearing the water surface completely! He was moving towards another pod (an adult and juvenile) that also showed off a few big breaches. At one point we had two of them breaching at the same time! A spectacular display!

Regards
Eco Ranger Ina
Tangalooma Marine Education & Conservation Centre

   

   

Posted by Ben
 
 
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