Another proof of the significance of this area for marine wildlife
We’ve had an amazing diversity of wildlife on our recent tours during the Easter holidays, which demonstrates again that the Ocean surrounding the Tasman Peninsula is an area of significance for a variety of marine life. Keep scrolling to read about our special encounters with Orcas, Humpback Whales, a Southern Elephant Seal and a Sunfish.
The youngest Orca ever sighted in Tasmanian waters
On April 1st, we had the privilege to spend some time with two female Killer Whales one of which had a tiny calf by her side. The mother is known to the Eastern Australian Killer Whale Database as ‘EA_0004’ or ‘Square notch 1’ due to the square notch in the back of her dorsal fin (see photo above). We had the feeling that her baby was very young, as it still had a yellow staining and visible fetal folds from being curled up in its mothers womb.
After checking our ID photos, David Donnelly from Killer Whales Australia confirmed that the little calf was only days old when we sighted the pod. This is really exciting, because it means that it was born in Tasmanian waters. It is the first recorded sighting of such a small calf here on this coastline and therefore very important information for the researchers.
The other female of the pod is also known to Killer Whales Australia, but it hasn’t had a name and number allocated yet. The researchers of Killer Whales Australia use scientific methods for the identification process of the Orcas. The process starts with assigning images to an individual animal. Photos of both sides (if available) of the dorsal fins, eye patches and saddle marks will then be analysed. Lastly, at least two additional independent observers have to agree on the individual animal, so it can be given a unique identification number and be added to the catalogue. We expect that this female is going to get an ID number allocated this year. 🙂
Early Humpback Whales
Usually we start to see the first Humpback Whales swim past the coastline of the Tasman Peninsula on their northern migration in early May. It was a big surprise to see the first Humpback Whale a few days ago in early April.
This individual was showing its tail a lot, so we got to capture the first fluke shots for the Tasmanian Fluke Project, a project we set up in collaboration with marine biologist Dr. Maddie Brasier in 2020 to record and identify Humpback Whales in Tasmanian waters. We identified 129 new flukes in our first year which greatly exceeded our expectations.
We’ve sighted this individual whale two days in a row and while I am typing this I heard about another Humpback that was sighted this morning at Cape Hauy.
After we spotted the blow of the Humpback Whale in the distance, we stopped the boat to get another visual. It was coincidence that we stopped right next to a sunfish that slowly swam up to the surface. We’ve had a lot of sunfish sightings this season. Check out this video of a Bumphead Sunfish that we posted to our Instagram page not long ago.
Most of our passengers have never seen a sunfish before and this one was quite an inquisitive one, so we hung with its for a little while until it decided to move on. BTW have you ever seen photos of a baby sunfish? If you haven’t, I highly recommend checking out this article of livescience.com showing photos of arguably one of the cutest baby animals on Earth.
A Southern Elefant Seal
Another big surprise for us was seeing a Southern Elephant Seal amongst the pups at the seal colony. A creature with two big eyes stared at us from in amongst the kelp. It looked a bit like E T at first and very different to the Fur Seals. As it lifted its body up a bit, it was clear that it was an Elephant Seal.
Southern Elephant Seals once bred on King Island in Tasmania, but were sadly wiped out by the sealing industry. According to DPIPWE, each year in Tasmania an average of eight Elephant Seals are reported. The age of the animals visiting Tasmania’s shores varies from yearling animals (one year old) to animals of 16 or more years off age. The closest breeding area of Elephant Seals is Macquarie Island (a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean, about half-way between New Zealand and Antarctica and politically a part of Tasmania).
Fun fact: Southern Elephant Seals are the deepest diving seal in the world. Females have been recorded diving as deep as 1600m with dive durations of up to two hours (information gathered from the DPIPWE website).
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. If you’d like to join one of our tours and support us with our marine research projects, you can book your trip here or contact us anytime for more information about the different tour options.