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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. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Every behaviour in the book!

If you’ve been thinking about coming out on a whale watching cruise, now is the time!  With only one month left to the whale watching season, the humpback whales have been in top form lately, putting on an amazing show for us every day. On top of that we’ve been seeing pods of three different species of dolphins almost every day as well.

Mostly it’s been the Common Dolphins lately that have been entertaining us with their fast-paced antics. But today we were joined by a pod of about 15 big offshore bottlenose dolphins! Offshore and inshore bottlenose dolphins used to be classed as the one species but recently, with more genetic research being done, they have been split into two. In fact, inshore bottlenose dolphins are actually more closely related to spinner and spotted dolphins than to offshore bottlenose. This certainly makes sense when you look at them, as they are quite distinct. The offshores are darker in colour than their inshore cousins (like the ones that come visit us at Tangalooma) and much larger and bulkier. And after we’ve been watching the small agile common dolphins these past few days, the offshore bottlenose looked so massive and powerful when they came up to the boat today to surf the bow and the wake!

As for the humpback whales, they were very active today, displaying pretty much every behaviour in the book! We watched full-body breaches, tail slaps, tail lobs, head lunges, and we even saw a mother and calf pair of whales do a double breach together! It was amazing to see the big mum and her little baby breaching next to each other at the same time! The main reason for breaching is thought to be for communication or signalling between different pods, but in this case we got the feeling that the calf was just having a great time and may have been practicing its breaches and lunges. And the mother seemed to be teaching her little one how to make a splash!

 

 

Posted by Ben
Monday, 29 September 2014
Not a cloud in the sky..

What a stunner of a day today! Not a cloud in the sky, calm seas, and the marine life certainly put on a show for us as well! We saw two pods of 30-odd Common Dolphins each, that played all around our boat, several sea turtles surfacing for a breath of air and a total of eight humpback whales. The first pair of whales came right up close, passing by our stern within touching distance, showing off just how big they are! The second pod was very active, displaying some big head lunges and breaches. And to finish off we had a pod that included a very playful young calf that was throwing its tail out of the water repeatedly, splashing around next to mum. So all the highlights in one cruise with different pods showing different behaviours, making for some wonderful photo opportunities!

We are very lucky that we have all this beautiful marine life still, right on the doorstep of Brisbane! Large populations of large marine animals like dolphins, whales, turtles etc. are by no means common around the world anymore. Especially those living in nearshore areas close to major cities are generally declining everywhere. This is due to human impacts such as boat strikes, fishing gear entanglement, overfishing, pollution and declines in water quality. Our marine animals are facing many threats these days and we all need to do our part to reduce these. Simple things we can all do in our day to day lives includes boating and fishing responsibly – slow down when there’s wildlife around and follow local fishing regulations. Also reducing household chemicals such as cleaning products and purchasing those that are eco-friendly and low in phosphates to reduce the amount of chemicals  and nutrients that enter our waterways. And one of the most important ones would be to reduce rubbish! Reduce, reuse, recycle, say NO to plastic bags or plastic bottles and try to cut any unnecessary plastics out of your day to day life. Obviously put rubbish in the bin and “take 3 for the sea”! If each one of us Australians picked up three pieces of rubbish every time we went to the beach, that’s almost 70 million items that don’t end up in the ocean and don’t kill marine life!  So try to “take 3 for the sea” whenever you go to the beach or even every day! Small actions like these do add up to make a big difference!

 

 

Posted by Ben
Sunday, 28 September 2014
Whale Morse Code?

We had an interesting whale watch today, spending around an hour with a very active humpback whale. The young female was on her own, and she was continuously pectoral flipper slapping and breaching in a very distinct repetitive order. She would slap her flipper onto the water seven or eight times in a row, then she would arch her back and go down for a deep dive, only to come up with a massive breach, jumping high in the air, twisting and crashing down onto her back. Then she’d resurface and start pectoral fin slapping again, seven or eight times, followed by another big breach. She kept repeating this sequence for around an hour, continuously!

It was great for us as her behaviour was quite predictable so everyone managed to get some fantastic photos. But certainly made us wonder about the reasons for her display. These surface active behaviours are generally considered to be a form of communication between pods of whales. We did see another whale off in the distance that was also breaching and pec slapping and our female was slowly heading towards that other whale, so they were probably signalling to each other. But the stereotypical sequence of her display was certainly quite striking, it almost reminded me of Morse code! Seven short splashes, one big long splash...?

Unfortunately deciphering animal communication systems or “language” is very complex and difficult but days like today certainly make me wish I “spoke whale” and could figure out what they are saying to each other.

  

Posted by Ben
Wednesday, 24 September 2014
Clearly in a playful mood..

One of the main things that always amaze me when we’re out there with the whales or dolphins, is how curious, playful and quite obviously intelligent these animals are. Today we saw two examples of that. We had a very close encounter with a mother humpback whale with a small calf. The baby would have been less than a month old but the mother was quite unafraid of our boat. To the contrary, she actually turned and swam straight towards us with her calf. They dived right under the boat, came out the other side, then turned again and swam straight past our stern. They were quite obviously checking us out. Maybe she was teaching the baby what a boat is and how to behave around it. Humpback whale calves stay close to their mum’s side for the first year or two of their lives and during that time they learn a lot of behaviours from her.

Later on in the cruise we were watching two pods of five and three adult whales, when a pod of about 15 common dolphins arrived. The dolphins were clearly in a playful mood! Some of them came up to ride our boat, others were jumping out of the waves behind us, and some went straight up to the three humpback whales and started swimming around them. They were bowriding right in front of the whales’ heads, swimming fast circles around them, clearly quite excited to play with them. I always imagine, for the resident dolphins that live in this area, the humpback whales that arrive in the winter months are probably just as much of an exciting novelty as they are for us!

 

 

 

Posted by Ben
Tuesday, 23 September 2014
30 common dolphins!

We had a beautiful day today with so much different marine life around! We saw five humpback whales that included a young calf as well as a pair of adults that came nice and close to the boat to check us out.

But the highlight today was an encounter with a big group of over 30 common dolphins! These beautiful dolphins are always very agile and energetic, and this pod was certainly no exception! They raced up to us to ride the bow, leaping high out of the water all around. They even had two tiny young calves with them which were just as active as the adults, porpoising through the water next to their mums. One of them even jumped high up into the air several times in a row! It was probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen – there were “awwwws” all around!

To finish off a day of great sightings we also had a close-up look at a beautiful green sea turtle near Flinders Reef. It surfaced right next to the boat for several breaths of air before diving back down. Sea turtles can live to over 150 years of age and this was quite a large animal, around a metre in shell length, so she may have been well over 100 years old! Imagine all the things she would have seen in her life! Hopefully she will live for another 50!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Ben
Sunday, 21 September 2014
My favourite part of the season!

We are well and truly into the Southern migration of the humpback whales now, and into my favourite part of the whale watching season: when the mothers with young calves make their way back south from the breeding grounds off Northern Queensland back to the feeding grounds off Antarctica. Over the last week we have seen a total of 12 young calves from this year’s season.

Newborn humpback whale babies are about 3 to 5 metres long and weigh over a ton. Which sounds like a lot but when you see them next to their 15 metre mothers, they look more like a big dolphin than a whale. They tend to be lighter in colour for the first month or two, often even a creamy white colour, until they darken up on the back to eventually the same black and white colour pattern as the adults. They also have a very short rostrum or head which always makes them look a bit scrunched up or stumpy (in a cute way!) compared to the long head of the adults.

When we see the calves here, on the southern migration, they tend to be about a month or two old. They would have been born further north, around the Great Barrier Reef Islands where the mothers would have spent a few weeks resting with them before starting the long journey back south to Antarctica. So when we get to see them here, they are kind of like human toddlers: full of energy! Of course that makes them so much fun for us to watch – nothing like seeing a baby whale launch itself out of the water over and over and over...

That was certainly our highlight today as well: watching a pod of two mother-calf pairs travelling South. One of the mothers did a lot of pectoral flipper slapping and both calves were very active as well. They were both throwing their tails around, slapping them onto the water and head lunging out of the water. These calves already had the typical black and white colour pattern of the adult humpbacks but they were both still very small, definitely from this season, and very cute to watch!

 

Posted by Ben
Thursday, 18 September 2014
A fantastic day on the bay!

Wow, today’s whale watch had pretty much all the highlights you could ask for! We racked up a total of 15 humpback whales and also saw inshore bottlenose, as well as common dolphins that came and hung out with us and the whales for a while. The humpbacks included four big adults that were travelling South. They got quite interested in us and kept swimming right under the boat, playing peak-a-boo, surfacing on either side of us. They even did a few big spy hops, lifting their large heads right up out of the water to have a good look at everyone on the boat. It seemed they had as much fun interacting with us as we did with them!

We also found a pod of three mother-and-calf-pairs that were all travelling together! I’ve never actually seen several mums and calves together like that, you tend to see them on their own or accompanied by another adult. But one of the three calves, a little female, was very active and excited. She did a few high breaches, right up out of the water, and also tail lobs, throwing her tail across the surface. At one point her mother was lying on her side, slapping her big flippers on the water, at the same time as the baby was tail lobbing! So much fun to watch!!

What a fantastic day to be out on the water, surrounded by so much beautiful marine life!

 

Posted by Ben
Sunday, 14 September 2014
Dolphins steal the show..

Today we had more of a dolphin watch than a whale watch... We did see three humpback whales, a mother and juvenile plus an escorting adult, who we spent a while with. But suddenly a huge pod of 50+ common dolphins came in and approached the whales!

Common dolphins are more of an oceanic, deep water species so it’s always exciting when they show up close to the coast for us. They are beautiful dolphins with a bright yellow stripe along the side and they are a bit smaller and sleeker than the bottlenose dolphins. Commons are often found in larger pods and they seem to absolutely LOVE bowriding! This pod came up the whales and started swimming in front of them to get a ride. We often see whales starting to roll around and play with dolphins that approach them but these three seemed to be completely uninterested. They just slowly cruised on and the dolphins were getting bored of them within a few minutes.

Instead, the whole pod of 50 dolphins came over to us and started milling around our bow. Knowing that these guys love to surf, we carefully started speeding up a little and sure enough, the dolphins immediately got excited and started bowriding. There were even quite a few young calves amongst them, surfing away next to their mothers! We continued to play with them for a good 40 minutes! I don’t know who was having more fun, the dolphins bowriding, surfing and leaping out of the water, or us watching and cheering them on! 

 

 

Posted by Ben
Friday, 12 September 2014
Whale talk

We had quite an exciting whale watch today! We saw 21 humpback whales in total and most of them were in the throws of courtship displays! After a couple of smaller groups we came across a big pod of seven whales consisting of a mother and calf and five other adults, presumably all males. The calf was only small, probably from this season so only a month or two old. In which case the mum wouldn’t be quite ready to mate again just yet, as she will be nursing this calf for at least a year to 18 months. Usually they have a new baby on average every two to three years. Only very rarely do they give birth in consecutive years. But these males seemed to be keen to take their chances, they were right behind the mum, following her every twist and turn as she just seemed to be trying to get away!

When they eventually started giving up and splitting up into smaller groups, we spotted another whale breaching off in the distance. As we approached that one, we noticed lots of other whales in all directions doing the same, heading straight for the breacher. Obviously that one must have been signalling to them, calling them in, and he or she continued breaching until there were a total of seven whales that had come together. They all then started to travel on together, in one big group. It was very interesting to see and certainly shows that the breaching is a form of communication or signalling. But it does make you wonder what exactly the whale was telling the others!

 

 

Posted by Ben
Saturday, 6 September 2014
No sign of our mate Migaloo..

Still no sign of Migaloo but we still had a great whale watch today with lots of photo opportunities. We started of with a mother and her newborn calf! A very cute little baby whale, still light grey in colour, suggesting that he would have been no more than a couple of weeks old, if that. Mum was very protective at first, keeping her distance from us and keeping the baby very close to her side. But after a while she became more confident that we didn’t mean her any harm and she started coming closer. Eventually she was slowly cruising right next to us, so we were able to get a good close look at the little one. Fully grown, healthy humpback whales don’t have many natural predators but a small newborn calf like this one certainly would be a target for some of the larger predators like big sharks or orcas. So it was no surprise that the mother was very cautious and kept her calf very close to her side.

After that we had a few elusive whales that weren’t really interested in us. But to round up the cruise we came across another whale on the way home that was breaching and pectoral flipper waving continuously! He gave us a fantastic show and I think everyone managed to snap at least a few photos of breaches, as we certainly had plenty of opportunities for it!

  

 

Posted by Ben
Thursday, 4 September 2014
Surfing dolphins..

After having to cancel most of our whale watch cruises in the last couple of weeks due to the strong Westerly winds, we were happy to be out on the water again today, in absolutely stunning conditions with barely a ripple to be seen! And just in time to keep an eye out for Migaloo as well, who should be passing by in the next few days. Migaloo of course is the famous white humpback whale, the only confirmed albino humpback in the world, who migrates past our shores every year. Unfortunately there was no sign of him today, but we certainly had a great time watching his normal-coloured fellow whales.

We saw a total of nine humpbacks today, starting out with a pod of four big adults chasing each other. They were probably a female and three males, jostling for position next to her. We saw them breaching a couple of times to show off their strength or dominance and also lunging and charging at each other. Quite exciting for us to watch!

After that we spent some time watching a pod of about 20 bottlenose dolphins including at least two young calves. They came quite close to our boat and seemed to be having a good time surfing the waves and leaping out of the water! It’s always nice to see wild dolphins out there, going about their natural behaviours without being trained or made to perform tricks.

Towards the end of our cruise we found another couple of pods of whales that all seemed to be resting, at least until they were joined by a cheeky dolphin. Upon the dolphin’s arrival the whales seemed to perk up, did a few spyhops to look around above the water and started rolling on the surface and waving their pectoral flippers in the air.

All in all a beautiful day out on the boat with different pods of whales and dolphins around showing off some interesting behaviours. Maybe we’ll get lucky and spot the white whale tomorrow!

Eco Ranger Ina

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Ben
 
 
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