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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. 

Friday, 15 August 2014
The most unusual sighting..

We had an amazing cruise with quite a few special moments today! When we first came out of Moreton Bay, passing Comboyuro Point (the northwestern corner of Moreton Island), we were greeted by two very curious humpback whales that came over and sat within touching distance off the back of our boat for a few minutes to check us out. Moving on towards Cape Moreton we were joined by a beautiful Common Dolphin that came racing in to have a quick ride on our bow wave! He was moving so fast, leaping high out of the water as he was coming towards us, it was a stunning sight! We don’t see common dolphins very often as they tend to live in deeper waters further offshore, but this small pod has been hanging around quite close to the coast, just off North Point, for a few days now. As we approached Cape Moreton we were suddenly surrounded by pods of humpback whales in all directions! There were so many whales around and they were all very active, with breaches, tail slaps, flipper slaps, headlunges and generally splashing around everywhere! We didn’t know where to look!

But the most unusual sighting was still to come as we turned back towards Moreton Bay for the cruise home. Just off Yellow Patch we found another four humpback whales that were slowly moving towards a huge school of baitfish. The fish were so dense we could clearly see them as a big dark patch in the water. There were also lots of sea birds circling over them and diving in to pick up fish from the surface. This was quite an interesting situation because humpback whales don’t normally eat up here. They do all their feeding during the summer months in Antarctica, where there is lots of krill and baitfish for them to eat. Down there in the southern oceans they will eat over a tonne of krill every single day and build up a huge fat reserve, the blubber layer, under their skin. They then live off that fatty tissue for the rest of the year while they are migrating or up on the breeding grounds. There have been only very few rare sightings of humpbacks opportunistically snacking on large schools of bait fish if they happen to come across them while on migration. But they usually don’t eat anything at all during their migratory journey. So we were quite intrigued to see what these four whales were going to do.

Two of the whales moved towards the left side of the bait school while the other two moved over to the right and they seemed to be herding the fish between them towards the beach! Suddenly one of the whales lunged straight through the middle of the school, just below the surface! He brought his head up above the water on the other side so we could clearly see his expanded throat from that huge mouthful of fish he had just gulped up – he was definitely feeding!! Another soon followed, turning on his side as he skimmed through the bait. Meanwhile the other two appeared to be gulping up fish on the outside of the school. What incredible behaviour for us to witness, even all of our crew were super excited as none of us had ever seen whales feeding in this area here before! Truly a very special and unusual encounter for a boatful of lucky people!

Posted by Ben
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
Dolphins ridin' the bow..

We spent most of today watching the antics of a young adult male humpback whale who was swimming together with another whale in the waters just north of Cape Moreton. The male spent a good 45 minutes continuously lifting his tail out of the water, waving it in the air, and slapping it back onto the surface of the water. Maybe he was trying to impress the other whale swimming with him, presumably a female? The second whale certainly seemed quite interested in his display, she stayed very close to him and kept swimming around him and checking him out. I think more than likely it was a form of courtship display, as the two of them were slowly making their way north towards the breeding grounds.

Courtship takes many different forms in humpback whales, ranging from the testosterone fuelled heat runs (several males chasing a female and competing with each other) to the beautiful love songs the males sing to attract a partner. Different whales seemed to have different strategies for finding a mate and it is certainly quite possible that this young male thought waving and slapping his tail for such a long time was a good way of showing off his strength and stamina. His companion certainly seemed quite intrigued by his behaviour so he must have been doing something right...

Either way, it was fun for us to watch and provided plenty of great photo opportunities!

We finished the day with a quick sighting of a pod of common dolphins that suddenly came racing in to ride our bow and jump out of the wake behind our vessel! These common dolphins are a rarely seen species (despite the name) because they tend to live in deeper, more offshore waters. But we sometimes get lucky enough to see them around the northern end of Moreton Island. They are always a lot of fun to watch as they are very fast, full of energy, and absolutely seem to LOVE bowriding!

  

Posted by Ben
Sunday, 10 August 2014
Upon return..

There were plenty of humpback whales around again today, in the calm waters around Cape Moreton. We are now at the end of the northern migration, with many whales already heading back South again towards Antarctica. We’ve only been seeing very few pods heading North anymore over the past few weeks, but today there were several of them making their way up past the Cape and Flinders Reef. These northbound whales seem to be on a mission to get to the breeding grounds now, with most of them travelling quite quickly. But they did give us a lot of great views at their big tail flukes today, which everyone always loves getting photos of!

When the humpback whales take a deeper dive they arch their backs, giving them that “humpbacked” appearance, where the name comes from. And sometimes they then raise their entire tail out of the water. The tail fluke can be quite large, up to 3-5 m wide in a fully grown adult. Humpbacks are generally black and white in colour, black on the back and white on the belly. This is a common colour pattern in marine animals and is known as “counter shading”. It’s a form of camouflage, as the black back blends in well with the dark ocean below it (looking from above) whereas the white belly blends in with the sunlit surface of the ocean (looking from below).

So the tail fluke is also usually white underneath but it’s generally not completely white, it has black lines, spots or other patterns and markings on it. If you get a good photograph of the underside of the tail, you can actually identify that individual whale as no two are the same! Today we even saw a whale that had an almost completely black underside of the tail fluke which is quite unique! 

Posted by Ben
Friday, 8 August 2014
Social butterflies..

We had another fantastic whale watch today with ten humpback whales sighted up close and lots of action! The whales certainly have been extremely active in the past few weeks, we saw a lot of breaches today including a couple of double breaches by two big adult whales!

But the highlight was a pod of two whales that we spent quite a while with at the end of the cruise, a large adult with a slightly smaller juvenile. The adult did a lot of tail lobs, throwing her tail around on the water surface. Meanwhile the juvenile showed off a few very high full body breaches, almost clearing the water completely, one of which was less than 10 meters off the back of our boat!! To top it off, the pair were suddenly joined by a pod of about 10 or more bottlenose dolphins that raced in and had a good play around the whales and around our boat! They were surfing the waves, jumping out of the water, swimming right around the whales’ heads, while the two humpbacks were rolling around on the surface in the middle of them, clearly enjoying the games themselves!

It’s always so exciting to watch these two types of intelligent social animals (whales and dolphins) interacting with each other! The dolphins live here year round, so for them, the whales showing up only in the winter months are probably as much of a novelty and cause for excitement as they are for us each year!

  

Posted by Ben
Thursday, 7 August 2014
We made the news today..

We made the news today! We had an amazing encounter with three adult humpback whales mugging our vessel for well over an hour! Our engines were turned off and these whales were not going anywhere, just hanging around our boat, literally within touching distance for most of the time! They would surface on one side, stick their heads out, look at everyone, then dive under the boat and pop back up the other side to do the same! Our guests had a lot of fun, running from one side of the boat to the other, then down to the lower back deck and back upstairs for the best views! It was almost as if the whales were playing hide and seek with us, you never knew on which side they would pop up next!

For me, these sorts of sightings are always the most special, when the whales clearly want to spend time with us and are obviously interested in the boat and the people on it. It is completely on their terms and sometimes they stick their heads right out of the water and you can see the big eye looking at you – that still gives me goose bumps every time! Or as one of our guests today put it: “you feel like the whales are there for you, personally, looking at you individually!” Those sorts of eye-to-eye animal encounters are certainly very powerful and allow us to get a rare glimpse into the animal’s mind. Unfortunately it is impossible to know exactly what they are thinking, but it is very clear that they are – in fact – thinking.

I think if more people had these kinds of interactions with wild animals and realised that animals have personalities, show curiosity and awareness and are a lot more intelligent than we generally give them credit for, maybe we would start treating animals a lot better than we do.

          

             

Posted by Ben
Friday, 1 August 2014
A whale and dolphin party..

We saw five humpback whales today. One of them showed off a couple of high breaches as well. But probably the most exciting part of today’s cruise was a large pod of over 25 – 30 bottlenose dolphins that were having the time of their lives surfing waves and playing around our boat and around two big whales.

Dolphins of course are technically small whales. The whales, dolphins and porpoises are collectively known as the Cetaceans. They are split into two groups, the toothed whales (Odontocetes) and the baleen whales (Mysticetes). The toothed whales include all the dolphin species. As the name suggests they all have teeth in their mouths and they hunt fast-moving prey like fish or squid. That’s why they are generally smaller than the baleen whales as they need to be quick and manoeuvrable. The baleen whales on the other hand, like our humpback whales, don’t have teeth but rather baleen plates which are coarse bristly plates that hang down from the upper jaw. They act like a strainer or sieve when the whale is feeding. They use a technique called lunge feeding where they expand their throat and take in a huge gulp of water containing a swarm of small animals like krill or baitfish. Then they push the water back out of the mouth through the baleen which trap the small animals on the inside so the whale can swallow them without swallowing too much sea water at the same time.

It’s always really exciting to see dolphins and whales interacting with each other. They are both very intelligent animals and they certainly seem to be curious about each other and enjoying each others’ company. The whales today were rolling at the surface, lifting their heads up, while the dolphins (including a small calf) were zipping all around them. So much fun to watch!

Eco Ranger Ina

Posted by Ben
 
 
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