Category Archives: Blog

Entangled Humpback and playful Dwarf Minke Whale

A strong reminder to look after the Oceans’ health

Monday was a very emotional day – a day that reminded us and our tour guests of the importance of looking after our Oceans’ health. It was a prime example of the impact that humans have on the marine environment.

Entangled Humpback spy hopping next to the vessel
This entangled Humpback Whale spy-hopped next to our vessel, very likely to show us the rope that was hooked down low in the corner of its mouth.

We spotted two Humpback Whales that appeared to be very inquisitive at first. They approached us, spy hopped and rolled over, right next to our vessel. We soon realised that they were literally ‘asking’ for help.

One of the whales was entangled in commercial fishing gear. A very long rope of a Lobster / Fish trap had been caught across the mouth of the Whale. We managed to film the slow moving animal with the long rope trailing from its jaw. Watch the clip to the end to see how long that rope was!

Entangled HumpBack Whale from Wild Ocean Tas on Vimeo.

With the Tasmanian Lobster season currently closed, it’s likely that this animal has travel hundreds of kilometres like this. Minimal tail movement is a sure sign that the animal is exhausted. Not only does it restrict feeding ability, but also creates stress and anxiety and possibly a slow and painful death..

We closely collaborate with the crew of the Marine Conservation Program of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment in Tasmania (DPIPWE) and called up while we were tracking the two Humpbacks in the hope they can send a vessel and rescue team out to free the entangled whale from the rope. DPIPWE has specialist equipment and staff trained in internationally recognised techniques for undertaking Whale disentanglement operations, but unfortunately they were already further up the coast to look for another entangled Whale near Binalong Bay.

As a tour operator we have a public liability to our guests on board and are not permitted to closely approach entangled Whales as they are large powerful animals and present a significant safety risk. It was frustrating that we couldn’t do anything to help. All we could do was to head out the following day without guests on board to search for the entangled Whale, but unfortunately it must have moved on over night. Hopefully it manages to rid itself of this entanglement soon!

Surprise Dwarf Minke Whale

Dwarf Minke Whale Dorsal Fin
On the first glimpse, one could think it is a Dolphin, since Dwarf Minke Whales are quite small Whales that reach up to 7 meters in length.

The Ocean held a surprise for us when we headed back up the coast after having had a snorkel with the Seals.  We spotted a single, grey dorsal fin that disappeared quickly. The animal also left a boil on the water surface. It must have been a small whale! So we waited patiently until we saw it pop up again. It turned out being an inquisitive Dwarf Minke Whale.

Rostrum of the inquisitive Dwarf Minke Whale
This is the rostrum of the inquisitive Dwarf Minke Whale.

The last time we’ve seen a Dwarf Minke Whale on our tour was early December 2017. So it’s been 10 months! They’re super rare to see inshore in Tassie, but a joy to be with. 🙂 Like last time we saw one, this Dwarf Minke Whale playfully circled or boat, approached us from the side, swam down and came back up on the other side – a bit like playing hide & seek.

Tasmania’s south-east coast attracts many different types of Whales at this time of year. Although we cannot guarantee to see whales on every single tour, we do love Whales and bend over backwards to try and find them. 🙂

If you would like to jump on board and spend a day on the water with us, check out our tour options and book online or call / text us to reserve your seats!

 

Endangered Sei Whales spotted

Two Sei Whales on our first Seal Tour

Bushy blow of a Sei Whale
This photo shows the bushy blow of one of the Sei Whales and its long body.

We ran our first Seal & Ocean Expedition for a special request last Thursday. Usually we start our season in October, but this year we were lucky that some persistent travellers woke us up from hibernation two weeks earlier.

Everyone was extra excited to see how the Seals are going to react and behave, because it was the first day to get in the water with them after the winter break. Again we found that patience is the key. We slid in the water quietly and floated on our viewing platform for a while, keeping our distance so that the Seals could get used to our presence. After about five minutes of floating in the water some of the younger seals came over to check us out first, followed by some inquisitive adults. Soon we were surrounded by 15 of them. We couldn’t have asked for a better start into the new season!

Once we got back on board, we had our usual hot cup of tea and some sweet treats and went to check out the Totempole and Candlestick (two massive dolerite sea stacks) at Cape Hauy, when we spotted a bushy whale blow.

Sei Whale dorsal fin & Tasman Island
This is what we saw first of the whale – a relatively tall and sickle-shaped dorsal fin (and the tall cliffs of Cape Pillar and Tasman Island in the background).

It took quite a while for the whale to come back up for its next breath. This time we got to see its dorsal fin clearly. The shape of the dorsal fin was relatively tall and sickle-like, very different to the dorsal fins of Humpback Whales which are regular visitors along our coastline at this time of year. On the first glimpse we thought it could be a Killer Whale, since they have been around this week as well. But the next sighting of the Whale’s dorsal fin ruled out Killer Whales as well. The fin was much more pointy and rather grey in colour.

So we kept course and maintained low speed to stick with the Whale. It turned out being two Whales travelling together. The tracking of their path was easy. The Whales left so called ‘footprints’, which are swirls of water they create from moving their tail that can be seen on the surface. They also leave an oily film on the surface after they exhale.

Sei Whale rostrum and blowholes
Here you can see the Blowholes and rostrum of one of the Sei Whales as well as the beautiful swirly pattern on the side of its body.

The Whales popped up frequently beside us. A great opportunity to take some ID shots. They were quite dark grey in colour and about 14-17 meters long. We were thinking they had to be one of the larger rorquals, like Bryde’s or Sei Whales. Both species of Whale would be super rare to see inshore in Tasmania. They look very similar, except that the Sei Whale has a single ridge running from the tip of the snout to the blowholes, while the Bryde’s Whale (pronounced “broodus”) has three ridges. Going through the photos at home and talking to the Marine Mammal Research Crew at the ‘Marine Conservation Program – Wildlife Management Branch’ of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment and also at ‘Killer Whales Australia’, we can confirm now that they were Sei Whales.

The Sei Whale is the third-largest rorqual after the Blue Whale and the Fin Whale, reaching a body length of approximately 19 meters. Like other Whale species, the Sei Whales were affected by large-scale commercial whaling. As of 2008, its worldwide population was about 80,000, nearly a third of its prewhaling population. The Sei Whale is listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List.

Two Sei Whales side by side
Here is a photo of the two Sei Whales side by side.

Since 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has officially halted all commercial whaling. However, approximately 50 Sei Whales are still killed every year by Japanese whalers in the North Pacific under Japan’s “scientific” whaling program. Other human caused threats like pollution, shipping strikes and entanglement in fishing gear highly impact these endangered animals. Its important to speak up for the voiceless to ensure their recovery as well as the overall health of the marine environment.

If you are planning to travel to Tasmania this season and would like to learn more about why whales are so important for the Oceans health and life on the Planet in general, then come and join one of our tours. We’d love to have you on  board!

 

A Day with a Southern Right Whale & Calf

Winter Whale-Watching in Fortescue Bay

Southern Right Whale carrying its her calf
A Southern Right Whale Cow carrying her Calf on her back.

So yesterday we went whale-watching from land. Well yes, that’s what we do on our days off. 🙂 And it was a great day for it! A mother and calf Southern Right Whale were resting inshore in Fortescue Bay on the Tasman Peninsula (only 25 minutes by car from our office) all day, from early morning until dark.

Scroll down to see some footage that we captured of the two whales. The little calf was acting a bit cheeky. It rolled over mums back and gave her cuddles. It was amazing to witness such intimate behaviour!

Mum & Calf Southern Right Whale resting in Fortescue Bay
A mother and calf Southern Right Whale resting in Fortescue Bay on the Tasman Peninsula.

Recognising Individuals

The Southern Right Whales had been hunted to near extinction in the whaling time (early 1800s). The ban of commercial whaling has helped the species to recover, however, the south-east Australian population is still estimated at around only 600 individuals according to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE). The Southern Right Whale is therefore one of Tasmania’s rarest mammals, and one of the largest, with adults weighing up to 80 tons!

To help researchers with the maintenance of a catalogue of unique individuals and the analysis of their behaviour & movement patterns, we try to take as many quality ID shots as possible. Each Southern Right Whale has a unique callosity pattern on the rostrum, chin and lower jaw. Callosities are basically greyish patches of roughened skin that are colonised over time by cyamids (small crustaceans). The little calves are born with these callosities which  persist with minor variation through their life and form a great identifying feature.

You can get involved too!

Callosities of a Southern Right Whale
The rostrum of a female Southern Right Whale with its unique callosities.

In the photo above, you can clearly see the white callosities on the rostrum of the Southern Right Whale cow.

If you’d like to get involved, there are easy things you could do to help with the conservation of these whales! For example, you could ​learn to recognise the Southern Right Whale as a species and report sightings to the crew at Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service under 0427-WHALES or to us at Wild Ocean Tasmania under 0473-770416.

Distinguishing the Southern Right Whale from other Whale species is quite simple.  It is the only Whale in its range with a smooth, finless back and the callosities mentioned above. Different to Humpback Whales, these Whales have very broad, paddle-shaped flippers.

Pectoral Fin of Southern Right Whale
This photo shows the broad flippers of the Southern Right Whale cow with her calf in the foreground.

Southern Right Whales are often observed floating quietly in the water with little of their body visible above the surface – a behaviour known as ‘logging’. They exhale through two nostril-like blowholes which blow a V-shaped spout of water up to five metres high. Patience is the key when observing Southern Right Whales, as they can easy hold their breath and stay under water for 20 minutes or more.

And this is what a Southern Right Whale Calf looks like underwater:

The eye of a baby Southern Right Whale underwater
The eye of a baby Southern Right Whale underwater.

Footage of Mum & Baby Southern Right Whale

Here is a short video that shows the mum and her calf cruise along the beach of Fortescue Bay. Watch closely and you can see how the little one is rolling around on mums back at the start of the clip and later in the video it is showing its mum affection by hugging her with its flippers. It’s hard to put it into words how special it was to observe the interaction between mother and calf!

If you would like to join us for a day on the water, head over to our booking system and pick your preferred day & tour! We can’t wait to start our season on the 16th of September this year and we’d love to have you on board! 🙂

 

Best wildlife encounter of the season

Antarctic Visitors in Tasmania

Leopard Seal face
The best wildlife encounter for us this season was to watch a Leopard Seal hunt down a Black-faced Cormorant.

Now that the busy holiday season has come to an end, we took some time to reflect on all the wildlife interactions we’ve had.

The whale migration between October and December has been amazing (as always) and this year we were privileged to spend some time with a very inquisitive Dwarf Minke Whale and the endangered Blue Whale as well. But the most exciting day for us was, when we watched a rare visitor from the Antarctic – a Leopard Seal – prey on a Black-faced Cormorant.

Warning: the following photos show a Leopard Seal hunt down and feed on a Black-faced Cormorant!

Juvenile Leopard Seals discover their range

Leoprad Seal resting on the beach in Tasmania
Leopard Seal resting at Seven Mile Beach in Tasmania

Leopard seals breed on the Antarctic pack ice and range from the Antarctic coast to the sub-antarctic and sub-tropical seas. An average of five Leopard Seals visit the coast of Tasmania each year according to DPIPWE (Department of Primary Industries, Parks, water and Environment). This season, more than 10 sightings have been recorded in Tasmania, including at Seven Mile Beach (South of Hobart), Denmans Cove, Pirates Bay, Safety Cove Beach and our encounter at Cape Hauy (all on the Tasman Peninsula). Tasmanian marine biologists explain that these seals are typically sub-adults, not quite ready to breed, that like to explore their range and travel a lot further than the adults generally would do.

Top End Predators

The Leopard Seal is one of the apex predators in the Ocean and is rarely preyed upon by other animals, except the occasional desperate Shark or Killer Whale.

Leopard Seal showing off his teeth
Leopard Seals have powerful jaws and long jagged teeth that they also use for straining krill out of the water.

Leopard Seals have a varied diet. ‘Scats’ or faeces have been collected from Leopard Seals that haul out in Tasmania and studies indicate that whilst in Tasmanian waters the Seals are preying upon Shearwaters, Cormorants and Little Penguins, as well as Cephalopods and Fish (DPIPWE). They also use their long, jagged teeth for straining krill and are known to prey on other Seal species, like Crabeater Seals and Weddell Seals. Early on last season, we got to watch this incredible hunter catch and feed on a Black-faced Cormorant.

Leopard Seal throwing dead Cormorant
The Leopard Seal was throwing the dead Cormorant around to tear off pieces of meat.

On our tour, we like to stop at one of the rocks the Cormorants choose to rest upon, since they exclusively occur in coastal and marine waters. This time, we saw quite a bit of action before we arrived, with lots of Gulls circling around and calling out loud.

Splashes.

And this pour, dead  Cormorant got thrown through the air.

Leopard Seal and Prey
Leopard Seal and Prey

The leopard Seal popped his head up to see what we were up to and then continued feeding on its meal.

It is common that Leopard Seals thrash the captured bird back and forth until the skin peels away. The remaining carcass is then consumed.

Leopard Seals are only seen very rarely in Tasmania and usually when they rest on the beach. To see this Leopard Seal hunt in the waters of the Tasman Peninsula was extremely lucky, we’ve never got to witness this before and our guests felt like being on an expedition boat to Antarctica. 😉

Leopard Seal feeding on a Black-Faced Cormorant
Leopard Seal feeding on a Black-Faced Cormorant.

Once the Leopard Seal had finished its meal, it actually became quite inquisitive and started to swim pirouettes next to our boat. Then he swam off towards the Cormorant roost in the hope of catching another bird (you can see its head in the bottom right corner of the image below, looking up at the Cormorants). The Cormorants were smarter this time around and so the Leopard Seal had to be content with what he got.

Leopoard Seal patrolling around a Cormorant Colony
After the Leopard Seal had finished its first meal, it swam back to the little Cormorant colony and patrolled around the rocks in the hope for another feed.

Would you like to find out more about the different wildlife that we’ve encountered on our tours? Then head over to our Gallery to see our latest snaps.

You’re ready to book? Awesome, we’d love to share a day on the water with you!

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Amazing weekend surprise – A Blue Whale!

An unexpected encounter with a Blue Whale on our afternoon cruise

Blue Whale blow in Tasmania
The large blow of a Blue Whale can reach the height of a three-story building.

We had our eyes peeled on the weekend cruise, hoping to spot a blow of a Killer Whale, because a few sightings have been reported in Tasmanian waters recently. April seems to be a good time of year to see these incredible predators in Tasmania. Last year we logged 8 sightings in the month of April, as you can see in our blog post ‘April – The Orca month’.

Although no Orcas had been spotted, we weren’t disappointed, since we got to spend the whole afternoon with a Blue Whale, one of the world’s rarest species and the largest animal that has ever existed on the planet. 

Maybe a Pygmy Blue Whale?

Pygmy Blue Whale Tasman Peninsula
20 meter Pygmy Blue Whale travelling North along the Tasman Peninsula.

The last time we’d seen Blue Whales was in February 2015, 3 years ago! Back then we watched 2 enormous animals feed on krill. Here you can find some photos of the Blue Whales scooping up food with their huge mouths. This time, we only saw one individual cruising up the coast from Cape Hauy with a constant speed of about 5 knots. This animal appeared to be a bit smaller than the ones we saw in 2015, we estimate a size of approximately 20 meters. We’ve passed on our photos to the Marine Conservation Program Wildlife Management Branch to help with the research of cetaceans on our coastline. Although Antarctic Blue Whales and Pygmy Blue Whales have a very similar appearance, the researchers are quite confident that it was most likely a Pygmy Blue Whale, as most near-shore TAS Blue Whale IDs have been Pygmy Blue Whales  and the apparent size and proportions of the animal are suggestive. Pygmy Blue Whales are typically 15-20m at maturity (up to 30m for an Antarctic form), have a proportionally smaller and rounder rostrum and a shorter/thinner tail stock.

Responsible behaviour around these threatened animals is vital for their survival

Blowhole of a Pygmy Blue Whale in Tasmania
The blowhole / nostrils of a Pygmy Blue Whale in Tassie waters.

For us it was heartbreaking to watch how some recreational boaters carelessly trolled lures over the Blue Whale on the weekend, chasing Bluefin Tuna. We can’t stress it enough how important it is to act responsibly when sharing the waters with marine mammals or birds. Many marine animals that we encounter here in Tasmania are listed as ‘vulnerable’, ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’. They have to deal with human caused noise, debris and toxins when navigating the Oceans. The least we can do is to act responsibly and stick to the guidelines that suggest safe distances to whales and dolphins.

Whale and Dolphin Approach Guidelines -Image: DPIPWE

 

If you would like to get onboard to see Tasmania’s marine life and support our conservation efforts, check out our tour options here!

 

A special morning with a Dwarf Minke Whale

Dwarf Minke Whale sighting on our Seal & Ocean Expedition

Dwarf Minke Whale in Tasmania
The lucky passengers of yesterday’s Seal & Ocean Expedition got to watch a Dwarf Minke Whale – A rare sight on Tasmania’s coastline!

Cruising back up the coast from our Seal haul-out spot, we stopped for some play-time with a few curious Common Dolphins. Just as we were about to leave, we saw a dorsal fin pop up that didn’t quite look like a dolphin dorsal. After a quick scan, we saw the white lips of this beautiful Dwarf Minke Whale appear. 🙂

What does a Dwarf Minke Whale actually look like?

Most of our crew onboard knew that there was a good chance to spot some Humpback Whales, as they travel past our coastline to their main feeding grounds in Antarctic waters at this time of the year. But to see a Dwarf Minke Whale was quite a surprise and nobody really knew what to expect.

Distinctive white flipper of Dwarf Minke Whale
The Dwarf Minke Whales have a very distinctive white patch on their flippers, unlike the light gray flippers of the Antarctic Minke Whales.

Minke Whales are amongst the smallest of the baleen whales. There are two species of Minke. One is the Common Minke which is restricted to the Northern Hemisphere with a dwarf subspecies occurring in the Southern Hemisphere. The Dwarf Minke reaches up to 7m in length. They were first recognised as a distinct species in the mid 1980s, when they attracted attention in northern Great Barrier Reef waters because they regularly approached close to boats and swimmers. The second is the Antarctic Southern Minke which can grow up to 9m.

Dorsal fin of a Dwarf Minke Whale
The dorsal fin of Dwarf Minke Whales sits further back on their body compared to a dolphin’s dorsal fin.

Both the Dwarf Minke Whale and the Antarctic Southern Minke Whale occur in Tasmanian waters, however they are generally seen offshore during their migration North to their breeding grounds or on their return South over spring to early summer.

The best identifying features to distinguish the Dwarf Minke Whale from the Antarctic Southern Minke Whale are the smaller size and the white patch on their flippers. The Antarctic species has light grey flippers and the dorsal fin is located far back on their bodies.

Dwarf Minke Whales are known for their inquisitive behaviour

Close encounter with Dwarf Minke Whale
The Dwarf Minke Whale displayed a very inquisitive behaviour which is common in this species.

Whale-watching tour operators and tourists alike love to see the Dwarf Minke Whales in the northern Great Barrier Reef during the winter months, because they are generally very inquisitive. And so was our Dwarf Minke that we saw yesterday. It stayed with us for over half an hour, crossing from left to right under our bow and turned around to approach us from behind. A behaviour similar to that of a dolphin. Our guests certainly got to take lots of photos and great memories home from this encounter!

Observing the inquisitive Dwarf Minke Whale.
Observing the inquisitive Dwarf Minke Whale.

Speak up against whaling!

To see how trustingly this wild animal approached us and to observe such an amazing behaviour must encourage people to speak up for these intelligent creatures. Despite the 1986 IWC ban on commercial whaling, some countries refuse to end their whaling operations and use a loophole which allows for scientific whaling. Every year, Japan, Norway and Iceland kill around 1,500 whales between them. They generally die a slow painful death, as there is no humane way to kill a whale at sea.. Watch this video that was recently released by Sea Shepherd Australia.

If you would like to learn more about whales in Australian waters and see Tasmania’s rugged coastline, check out our tour options and join us on your next holiday in Tassie!

 

Responsible whale-watching rocks!

Do your bit to protect whales and dolphins!

Nowadays, spreading the word about responsible observing of marine animals is more important than ever. With an increasing number of boat tour operators and recreational boat owners taking people out to watch whales and dolphins on the water and photos of ‘super close encounters‘ getting talked up more and more on social media, it also imposes an increased risk of impacting on the animals.

Four whales steaming past our boat.

Different types of whales are driven by different factors. Some whales, like the Humpback Whales, migrate between warm equatorial waters and cold, nutrient rich waters. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, they head North to mate and give birth, seeking warm sheltered bays to nurse their calves after being born when they are still quite vulnerable. The mums have just travelled about 5000 km and given birth to a 1 ton baby. During breeding season, they don’t eat anything and live off their body fat reserves, yet have to feed 200+ litres of milk per day to their calves. One can only imagine how exhausting this process would be for the Humpback Whales. Needless to say, that mum and calf require some time to recover and to fortify themselves for the long journey ahead. Thousands of kilometres of swimming, before they reach their feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean.

When close encounters get a bit too close..

Keeping this in mind, one should not approach the animals too closely, to ensure they can have their well deserved rest. If they become inquisitive and choose to come for a closer look, that’s great! And it actually happens quite often. 🙂 In that case, it is recommended to take the engines out of gear during the ‘mugging’ (when whales are close and swim around the vessel) and not to engage the vessel into gear until the whales have been sighted a safe distance away from the boat.

A Humpback Whale that we spotted on one of our recent tours had large marks on his back.

Not long ago, we spotted a Humpback Whale with lacerations on his back. On a closer look it appears like an injury caused by a propeller of a boat.

Zooming in on the previous photo, the injury appears like it was most likely caused by a propeller of a boat.

Show some respect!

Choosing a responsible boat tour operator or knowing the guidelines for cetacean viewing helps immensely in protecting the animals which we are so passionate about. Not every business that claims to be an ‘eco tour operator‘ acts responsibly. We’ve been told many stories from guests on our recent tours that have experienced some disrespectful behaviour towards wildlife on previous trips they have  joined (i.e. ‘herding’ dolphins into bays to snorkel with them, chasing whales with full speed, etc.). That’s not cool,  so make sure you do your research.

Responsible Whale-Watching

There are a few key principles for the appropriate viewing of whales and dolphins:

  • Follow the recommended approach distances (as shown in the image below)
  • Don’t touch or feed the animals
  • Adopt a slow speed when cetaceans are around and don’t ‘chase’ them
  • Take engines out of gear when whale ‘mugging’ occurs (when whales become curious and stay close to the vessel)
  • And ENJOY your time with the animals, as it is a gift from the ocean! 🙂

 

Whale and Dolphin Approach Guidelines – Image: DPIPWE

 

More information about whale and dolphin watching guidelines in Tasmanian waters can be found on the website of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE).


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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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