All posts by Susie

Tracking Orcas for research purposes

Studying a family pod of Killer Whales

A family pod of orcas travelling along Tasmania's coastline.
A family pod of Orcas travelling along Tasmania’s coastline.

The 1st of August gave us the great opportunity to track and study a slow travelling family pod of Orcas on our coastline. Five Killer Whales had been sighted the day before off Schouten Island which is located about 47nm (87km) further up the coast. We were notified that the animals were slowly moving South, indicating a good chance to go ahead with some research work.

What’s on the menu today?

Wild Ocean Tasmania provides the research vessel for PhD student Ben Sellers from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS). Ben’s aim is to find out more about the dietary habits of Killer Whales in Australian waters. Scientists have a fair idea what types of prey the Killer Whales target thanks to sightings of researchers, tour operators and citizen science. Prey items include Seals, Rays, Tuna, Penguins, Squid and even Whale calves. However, more research has to be done to confirm the dietary choices of Killer Whales on a regular basis.

Three Killer Whales surfacing.
Tracking Killer Whales for research purposes.

Tissue samples can be used to examine the feeding habit of an individual animal. By looking at the fatty acid composition of the Killer Whale’s fat and comparing it to its potential prey, scientists can make some conclusions about what that individual has eaten over the last few months. This process presents more in depth information than we would be able to gather relying on sightings only. Ben Sellers uses a modern biopsy method that allows him to take tissue samples with specially designed darts. Strict regulations and permits are in place to ensure the animals welfare. One of the rules prohibits using this technique when calves are sighted in the pod. For our Orca encounter on Tuesday, it meant that no biopsy samples were going to be taken, as we spotted a  young animal, approximately 4 years of age.

A mature male Killer Whale with a calf.
A mature male Killer Whale with the young one.

Identification of individual Killer Whales

Orcas are listed as ‘data deficient’ on the IUCN red list of threatened species. There is not enough information available to issue a conservation status for these animals. So even though no biopsy samples were taken, the encounter with the three Orcas on Tuesday afternoon presented a great chance to collect valuable data material to help with the identification and behavioural studies. The identification of individual Killer Whales is vital to expand the ID catalogue – managed by David Donnelly from Killer Whales Australia –  and to feed the database with more information in regard to the population size, distribution, life history and ecology and possible threats to this species.

Three distinct identification features can be used to identify an individual:

  1. Dorsal Fin

The primary form of identification are high quality photos of the dorsal fin from both sides. The dorsal fin of each animal has a unique shape as well as distinct nicks, scarring and notches and usually yield sufficient information to assign an image to an individual Killer whale.

Dorsal fins of three Killer Whales
Orcas can be identified by the their individual scars, nicks and notches on their dorsal fin.

2. Saddle Patch

The secondary feature used for the identification of individual Killer Whales is the saddle patch right behind and below the dorsal fin. The shape, contrast and scarring of the saddle patch is unique to each animal and is usually used in conjunction with the dorsal fin as an identifying feature.

Saddle patch of a Killer Whale
Another distinct feature of individual Orcas is the saddle patch just behind the dorsal fin.

3. Eye Patch

When images of the dorsal fin and saddle patch are at a poor angle for the use in stand-alone identification, the eye patch can be a useful third option for the individual identification of Killer Whales.

Eye patch of a Killer Whale
One means of the identification of Orcas is to look at their eye patches.

We’ve sent our best ID photos for identification purposes off to David Donnelly from Killer Whales Australia and got informed that the same animals have been sighted off Phillip Island in 2013, indicating that the young one must be 4+ years old. None of these animals have yet been listed in the ID catalogue featuring about 60 individuals. The catalogue is a work in progress. Using robust methods, David and his team from KWA assess each image for its useability for identification. All images assigned to an individual killer whale have to be verified by at least two additional independent observers. If all three observers agree on an individual, that animal is then given a unique identification number and added to the catalogue.

Exciting sound recordings of Killer Whales

When tracking the Orcas, we also had the opportunity to film the youngest one underwater and record some rare acoustics of the animals. The footage shows the little one swim towards our vessel and then pass it to follow it’s mother. The audio recording is currently being analysed. Researchers suggest it might be the mother calling it’s young to come closer. Watch the video and listen to the beautiful vocals at the end of the clip!

If you would like to join one of our wildlife tours, learn about Tasmania’s diverse marine life and help with Ocean conservation, check out our half-day Seal & Ocean Expedition, 2-hour Coastal Adventure or book a private charter for your group! We can’t wait to share this beautiful place with you!

June special: 5% off all cruises

5% Discount on all our cruises this June

Tasman Peninsula Boat Cruise
Cruise along the rugged coastline of the Tasman Peninsula and see caves, arches and amazing rock formations that can’t be seen from land.

If you are coming to Tasmania for a short stay or a long weekend and don’t have enough time to do extensive hikes, a boat cruise along the coastline of the Tasman Peninsula offers a great alternative to see the National Park from a different perspective. You will get to explore hidden caves, fascinating sea stacks and a variety of marine life.

This month, we offer a last minute special for all bookings in June. Save 5% on our Coastal Adventure and our Seal and Ocean Expedition!

How to apply the discount:

Select the tour you would like to join, choose a date on the booking calendar and enter the Promo Code JUNE17 when you are prompted to do so. Alternatively, you can send us an email or give us a call and mention the Promo Code JUNE17.

What to expect:

Dolphin Watching in Tasmania
Check out the local marine life in their natural environment on one of our cruises. These are large Bottlenose Dolphins that came up for a play.

 

June is a great time to visit Tasmania, since the main tourist season has come to an end. Our afternoon ‘Coastal Adventure’ tour is the perfect choice for photography enthusiasts that would like to capture Tasmania’s amazing scenery just before sunset, when the coastline lights up in beautiful colours.

Seal swims upside down towards the camera.
The visibility underwater is amazing, specially during the cooler months.

 

And for those tough wildlife lovers: We still operate our Seal & Ocean Expeditions, that will give you a litte insight into Tasmania’s underwater world and the life of Australian and Long-nosed Fur Seals. One bonus of joining our snorkel trip during the cooler months is: The water clarity on calm days is just breathtaking! No need to worry about the cold, our polar fleece onesies and drysuits will keep you toasty warm!

April – The Orca Month

One of Australia’s Orca hotspots

The large number of Orca sightings last month plus numerous sightings in January, February and March have proven that Tasmania’s East Coast is one of the hotspots to see Orcas in Australia.

Orca side-on in Tasmanian waters
Lots of Orcas have been sighted on Tasmania’s East Coast early 2017, particularly in April. Tassie is one of the hotspots to see Orcas in Australia.

Orca sightings in April off Tasmania’s East Coast:

  • 30.4.17 O’Hara Bluff, Tasman Peninsula (male and female at sunset)
  • 29.4.17 Waterfall Bay, Tasman Peninsula (pod of 4, travelling North early in the morning)
  • 25.4.17 Near Policeman’s Point, Bay of Fires (2 animals, one of them listed in the ‘Killer Whales Australia ID Catalogue: EA_0002 aka Split Fin, we’ve seen the same animal together with two others here off the Tasman Peninsula in January)
  • 25.4.17 East of Eddystone Point, Northeast Tasmania (pod of 3)
  • 21.4.17 Seven Mile Beach, near Hobart Airport (small pod)
  • 20.4.17 East of Maria Island (EA_0002 aka Split Fin)
  • plus two unconfirmed sightings off the Hippolyte Rock near Tasman Peninsula and in the Northeast near the Bay of Fires

This was our romantic encounter with two Killer Whales at sunset on Sunday afternoon:

Where to report Orca sightings?

Orcas can often be seen from the shore. If you do see an Orca, please report it either to us at Wild Ocean Tasmania (0473-770416) or to David Donnelly of Killer Whales Australia (0401-011022). Your contribution would greatly support the team of researchers in gathering information about the behaviour and distribution of Orcas in Australia.


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Whales!!!

Rare whale sighting in coastal waters

The last thing we would have expected to see on our Coastal Adventure last Wednesday was a baleen whale… While Humpback Whales can be seen on our coastline almost daily between October and December and Orcas, who belong to the family of toothed whales, are frequent visitors to Tasmania’s coastal waters all year round, other species of whales are not that common inshore.

Whale low amongst dolphins
A misty blow of a baleen whale appears amongst hundreds of Bottlenose Dolphins.

We stopped our vessel to enjoy the company of a huge pod of about 500 Bottlenose Dolphins as a large misty blow appeared in amongst all the action. No need to explain how excited we were! It was obvious that this species of whale was a rare visitor to Tasmania’s coastal waters.

Blowholes of a Fin Whale
Fin Whales belong to the family of baleen whales which have two blowholes. Their blow can therefore easily be distinguished from toothed whales which only have one blowhole.

Sei Whale or Fin Whale?

We quickly grabbed our camera to hopefully get some ID shots. The sickle shape of the dorsal fin, the dark bluish-grey colour of the dorsal surface when looking against the sunlight, the blow and the size of this animal (about 15+ meters long) all indicated that it might be a Sei Whale. But the turquoise colour when below the surface confused us a little. The animal appeared to maybe even be a Fin Whale, the second largest living animal on the planet. Fin Whales make the lowest frequency sound in nature which can be heard by other Fin Whales thousands of kilometres away. Pretty incredible!!

Both the Sei Whales and the Fin Whales are listed as endangered. They have been excessively hunted for their meat, blubber, oil and baleen during the commercial whaling time. Recent surveys indicate that there are now fewer than 15,000 Fin Whales in the Southern Hemisphere and around 40,000 in the Northern Hemisphere. The current population of Sei Whales is estimated at 80,000, nearly a third of the prewhaling population.

Fin Whale underwater
The light turquoise colour of this whale when below the surface confused us a little, suggesting it might even be a Fin or Blue whale.

We handed our photos over to our marine research colleagues to find out what sort of whale this might have been. Unfortunately, the whale didn’t show it’s rostrum nor it’s tail and the researchers are still undecided what type of whale we’ve encountered. Regardless of the species, it was a great experience for everyone on board. Especially our youngest sailors will have a lot to tell their friends after the school holidays! 🙂

UPDATE: According to the team of the Marine Conservation Program Wildlife Management Branch of DPIPWE and their interstate colleagues, the general consensus is that it was most likely a sub-adult Fin Whale, Balaenoptera physalus.  The turquoise colour beneath the surface indicates a Blue or a Fin Whale, but the size and position of the dorsal fin rules out the Blue Whale.  Also the straighter anterior edge of the dorsal fin is unlike most Sei whales. 

Very few sightings of this species have been confirmed in Tasmania. Fin whales are typically found in deep offshore waters. So thanks to everyone involved in helping with the identification!!

Dorsal Fin comparison of a Fin Whale and Bottlenose Dolphins
This photo shows the dorsal fin of the Fin Whale in the middle compared to the dorsal fins of two Bottlenose Dolphins on either side. The straighter anterior edge of the dorsal fin is unlike most Sei Whales.

If you would like to join us on our Coastal Adventure tour, click here to check the availability. We offer great deals for families, plus children under 6 years of age travel free of charge!

Orcas off Tasmania’s East Coast

Lots of Killer Whale sightings in Tasmania early 2017

Killer Whale Fluke
This young Killer Whale slapped it’s tail only a few meters away from our boat.

We couldn’t have asked for a better start into the new year! A pod of Orcas was sighted off the east and southeast coast of Tasmania several times early this month. We had the pleasure to spend an hour with a male, a female and a juvenile killer whale on our Seal & Ocean Expedition on 2nd January. Yes, we had to extend our trip slightly… 😉

Orca playing off Tasmania's east coast
Wild Orca frolicking in Tasmania’s temperate waters.

The teenage Orca was very inquisitive. He came over and played beside our boat. We watched him roll around upside down, checking us out from underneath. Then he accelerated to grab and bite a jelly fish in half, what he then celebrated with lots of tail slapping. All within meters of our boat.

Underwater video of wild Orcas in Tasmania

The fact that the Orca came so close to our boat allowed us to film him underwater. Here you can watch our underwater footage of a young Killer Whale in the wild, where he belongs! Enjoy 🙂

Orca research in Tasmania

Researchers still don’t know much about the behaviour of Killer Whales in the wild. Their aim is to identify individual animals and to find out more about their diet and distribution. We work closely together with Killer Whales Australia, an organisation dedicated to the conservation of Orcas in Australian waters. Killer Whales can be identified due to their dorsal fins (distinctive shape, nicks and scratches) and their saddle patch (the area just behind the dorsal fin). We try to get high resolution photos of these areas to send off to the Australian Orca Database for their ID catalogue. Researchers are also hoping to collect skin and tissue samples of the Orcas from aboard our vessel, using a modern biopsy method, which can help in identifying their precise diet.

If you would like to be a part of what we do and support ocean conservation whilst enjoying the spectacular coastline of the Tasman National Park, check out our 2-hour Coastal Adventure or half-day Seal & Ocean Expedition and reserve your seat today!

Superpod of Bottlenose Dolphins off Tasman Peninsula

1000+ Bottlenose Dolphins sighted

Last week has been amazing in terms of wildlife sightings. Not only have we been treated with some more Humpback Whales that were feeding off the Tasman Peninsula, but we also got to spend our day with a superpod of Bottlenose Dolphins in excess of one thousand animals last Thursday.

Jumping Bottlenose Dolphin
Bottlenose dolphins often accompany us on our boat trips and like to show off with amazing displays.

Dolphins as far as we could see!

While different types of dolphins, like Bottlenose and Common Dolphins, are a very regular sight for us on our boat tours (7 out of 10 days we see dolphins during our trips), it is rather rare to see THAT many! On very lucky occasions, about a handful of days per year, we get to join a superpod. 🙂

Superpods of dolphins generally occur in areas of high food availability and consist of up to a few thousand individuals. In comparison, an average dolphin pod has about 10 – 30 members. The temperate waters of Tasmania are rich in nutrients and therefore provide the food that attracts whales and dolphins to feed here.

Superpod of Bottlenose Dolphins
Listening to the whistles of dolphins and watching the acrobatic jumps is a treat for all your senses.

Seeing a superpod of dolphins is a treat for all your senses, as they communicate through whistles and body language. The whistling sounds which the animals produce are easy to hear from the boat. Dolphins produce sounds using air sacs near their blow hole. The action of these air sacs is similar to filling up a balloon and then squeezing the end to let out the air. Each animal has a uniquely identifying signature whistle. Examples of body language are spectacular leaps out of the water, the snapping of their jaws as well as tail and head slapping. Sounds and gestures help the animals to keep track of other dolphins in the group, to navigate and to point out nearby food.

Swimming with Bottlenose Dolphins in Tasmania
On some lucky occasions we even get to see dolphins swim past our sea-view platform. What an amazing experience to look a wild dolphin in the eye!

To see dolphins always puts a smile on your face! Probably because of their friendly facial expressions. If you would like to join one of our wildlife-watching tours, check out our scenic based Coastal Adventure trip or come and swim with seals! We would love to share this beautiful coastline with you!

Humpback Whale calves putting on a show for us!

This years whale-watching season has even topped last years!

Whale watching tour in Tasmania
This years whale-watching season has been even better than last years. We’ve been seeing whales on nearly every tour since early October! 🙂

We’re only half way through this years whale watching season and can say that it has been the best so far!! Although we are not an actual ‘whale-watching’ operator (because we understand that whales are wild animals, generally food driven, and sightings cannot be guaranteed) we go out of our way to find some whales for our guests (and for us…) on our wildlife tours. This year, we have been seeing whales on nearly every trip so far! Tasmania’s Southeast coast is cetacean rich and it is home to many different species of whales. Over the last couple of months we’ve spotted Humpback Whales, Orcas and even the endangered Southern Right Whale.

Very special mother and calf encounters

This migration season, we've often seen mother and calf Humpback Whale very close to the coast. The calves have been putting on a show for us this year and treated us with lots of acrobatic breaches.
This migration season, we’ve often seen mother and calf Humpback Whale very close to the coast. The calves have been putting on a show for us this year and treated us with lots of acrobatic breaches.

This years whale-watching season has been a very special one for us and our guests, because we got to witness some amazing whale calf behaviours.  Most of the baby whales seemed to be very energetic and showed off with some spectacular breaches which gave our crew incredible photo opportunities!

Humpback Whale Calf learning to lunge feed

The most amazing day for us was, when we watched a baby Humpback whale practise to lunge feed. From the boat, we saw how the little guy accelerated and opened his mouth to scoop up some water. Tasmania is a great spot to watch adult Humpback Whales feed. Yet, to see a calf mimic it’s mother was a very special sight! Our drone allowed us to capture unbelievable footage showing the little one playfully learning how it’s done. You can even see it’s tongue when the calf opens up it’s mouth!

Spyhopping, flipper slapping, lobtailing, nursing and breaching

When a whale lifts it’s head (and sometimes the chest as well) out of the water, it allows them to have a better look around. This behaviour is known as ‘spyhopping’

Humpback Whale calf spyhopping behind mums large flipper
Pectoral fin slapping is usually done when the whales are in a very relaxed state. Here you can see the Humpback Whale calf spyhopping behind the large flippers of it’s mother.
Spyhopping Humpback Whale
This whale calf is lifting it’s head out of the water to have a look around. This behaviour is known as spyhopping.

Humpback Whale calves are quite vulnerable when they are young and have to put on weight quickly to be prepared for the long migration to Antarctica. They are one of the fastest growing species of whale, reaching 8-10 meters within the first year. The mother will feed her young over 200 litres of milk per day that is very rich in fat. Feeding can easily be identified, when the mother stays underwater and the baby returns to the surface every few minutes to breathe between feeds.

Pectoral Slapping of a Humpback Whale
Humpback Whales have very distinct pectoral fins. They can measure 1/4 to 1/3 of their whole body length. It is believed that whales slap their pectoral fins to communicate with other whales in the area.

Researchers are still studying the behaviours of whales to find out more about the reasons why they breach or slap their tails and flippers. The slapping of pectoral fins and tail is most likely done to communicate with other whales, as the sound can travel far distances underwater and can be heard from other whales even kilometres away. It could also be a warning of danger or to work out their position in relation to land.

Tail slapping Humpback Whale
This female Humpback Whale is slapping her tail to communicate with other whales in the area. The sound can be heard underwater by other whales kilometres away. Whales also slap their tails to get rid of barnacles and sea lice.

Especially Humpback Whales are known for their acrobatic jumps. To see a whale breach is something very special and a photographers dream. Although the whales seem to prefer rough and windy weather when breaching, this years calves have certainly enjoyed themselves on the most beautiful and calm days, guaranteeing that every passenger captured a spectacular photo to take home and remember this day forever. Why do Humpback Whales breach? There are several reasons for a whale to breach, one being the simple joy of jumping out of the water. Other reasons are trying to get rid of parasites, communication with other whales or to scare off predators.

Close up encounter with a Humpback Whale calf

When is the best time of the year to see whales in Tasmania?

In general, there is a chance of spotting whales any time of the year in Tasmania, as there are many different species of whales that occur in Tasmanian waters, not all of them are migrating whales. Orcas for example can be seen year round, when the food source is available. For migrating Humpback Whales and Southern Right Whales, the best time of the year to see them is during their migration down South (from warmer breeding grounds to their main feeding ground in the productive Antarctic waters) between October and mid Deceber. Saying that, last year, we’ve seen the last migrating Humpback Whale mid January.

Please follow this link, if you would like to find out more about our different boat tour options for your chance of a very special wildlife experience!

Dusky Dolphins – Rare visitors to Tasmania

Swimming with Dusky Dolphins in Tasmania
Rare visitors to Tasmanian waters – Dusky Dolphins

Welcomed to the season by dusky dolphins

What a great start into the season it has been this week! On our second day of operation we came across a pod of about 100 Dusky Dolphins off Waterfall Bluff. These beautiful animals are known for their acrobatics and they have certainly put on a show for us!

Dusky Dolphins are a curious species. We experienced a very inquisitive behaviour. Once the dolphins became aware of our boat, it was obvious that they enjoyed our company and loved to hang around for a play.

Watch this video for some impressions of the Dusky Dolphins underwater:



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Habitat of Dusky Dolphins

Dusky Dolphins are found throughout the Southern Hemisphere preferring cold, coastal waters. The best known locations include New Zealand, south-western Africa and also South America and southern Australia. Within Australian waters, dusky dolphins have been recorded in colder waters off Kangaroo Island, eastern Tasmania, and Bass Strait. However, the numbers of confirmed sightings in Australia seem to be low.

Description

Dusky dolphins are beautiful looking creatures with an amazing pattern. They are blue-black in color on their upper sides and have a dark band running diagonally across their flanks from their dorsal fins to their tails. They also have 2 white streaks that run diagonally from their tails to the base of their dorsal fins. Their under sides are light grey to white in color. These dolphins are relatively small, growing up to 2 meters in length. A very distinctive feature is the evenly sloping head from the blowhole to the tip of the snout, which lacks a beak.

Report sightings

If you have sighted unusual marine mammals or any species of whales in Tasmanian waters, please report the sighting to the whale hotline of the Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania  (0427-WHALES) or to us at Wild Ocean Tasmania (0473-770416) to assist in marine research.

 

 

Why is there so much roadkill in Tasmania?

Tasmanian wildlife need our support!

It is estimated that 293,000 animals loose their lives on the road each year in Tasmania. That equals 32 killed animals per hour on average for the year! According to Roadkill Tas, most wildlife is hit by vehicles between dusk and dawn. 50% of these animals had to loose their lives due to us humans driving faster than 80 km/h.

Imagine being a nocturnal animal. You are grazing on the lush grass on the side of the road, everything is quiet around you when all of a sudden you can hear a tremendous noise. You get dazzled by a bright light. A car is racing towards you. You can’t see, don’t know where to go. There is only a 50/50 chance to escape into the right direction.

The lucky ones find their way back into the bush, their safe place. But lots of animals don’t have a chance to escape.

What can I do if I accidentally hit an animal?

Although driving slowly and looking out for wildlife is the best way to avoid accidents, sometimes it just happens. If you do hit an animal there are a few things that you could do:

Stop only if it is safe to do so. Approach the animal slowly. If the animal is dead, pull it off the street to minimise the risk of predators getting run over by cars as well. Best is to use gloves, an old shirt or jacket when you examine the animal. Check the pouch, if it is a female. Often the young survive the crash and could possibly be saved. If the hit animal is still alive, it can also be treated and it might survive. Native animals get stressed easily and even die from stress. You can calm the animal down by keeping it in a warm, dark and quiet place, like a box or a towel, and keep handling to a minimum. Don’t try to feed the injured animal or joey anything. Call assistance immediately to increase the chance of recovery.

Wallaby joey in our care.
This is Marvin, a wallaby joey that is currently in our care.

Who can I contact for help with orphaned or injured wildlife?

There are several organisations that will be able to help you and give you advice if you come across orphaned or injured wildlife.

Bonorong Wildlife Sancturay

The Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary operates a 24-hour wildlife rescue service and organises a pool of  dedicated volunteers, wildlife carers and vets. Most likely they will be able to find a local wildlife rescuer in their database who can assist you with the rescue.

Call: 0447 264 625 (0447 ANIMAL)

DPIPWE

The Wildlife Management Branch of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE) offers a hotline for Wildlife Incidents as well.

Phone: 1300 827 727

Thanks to everyone who has helped animals in need!

Your support is very much appreciated. All the injured and orphaned animals have their own little personalities which you get to know once you’ve spent a bit of time with them. The wallabies that we took on quickly became a part of the family and it’s amazing to watch them develop their own characters. Some of our ex-orphans have already shown us their offspring. So every single animal that got help will possibly contribute to secure the population of their species.

Click here to find more information about our conservation efforts.