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2019 Season Summary

Tasmanias South East – One of the most cetacean rich corners of the World

A Pygmy Right Whale in South-Eastern Tasmania.
Every now and again, we come across something different – This is one of 5 Pygmy Right Whales (Caperea marginata) that we sighted on our Seal & Ocean Expedition in Munroe Bight, Southeastern Tasmania.

It’s been pretty quiet on our blog recently, but now that we are having our winter break and pulled our vessel out of the water for routine maintenance work, we also get some time to recap on another amazing season we’ve had!

Looking back, after many years of running tours and cruising on Tasmania’s south-east coast, sharing thousands of Whale sightings with beautiful people that supported our little business…there is no doubt that we live in one of the most Cetacean rich corners of the world. With the tragic history that lies in our recent past with treatment and slaughter of these magnificent and vital Ocean inhabitants, it’s a wonder that we get to see what we do, an incredible example of how resilient some of these species and the Ocean ecosystems must be. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to operate in such a fragile yet diverse marine environment – epic coastal scenery, Seals, Albatross and of course,  seeing Whales is always up there at the top of the list!

Just in the last 18 months we have encountered hundreds of whales across 9 different species, both Toothed and Baleen Whales plus several species of Dolphin. Pygmy Blue, Fin, Sei, Humpback, Southern Right, Minke, Dwarf Minke, Orca and our rarest and most unique visitor to date, the Pygmy Right Whale. Whilst most of the more common whale species we see around Tasmania have distinguishable characteristics and behaviour attributes, every now and again we come across something different.

A pod of super rare Pygmy Right Whales

A Pygmy Right Whale surfacing in Tasmanian waters.
One of the Pygmy Right Whales surfacing. The curved mouth, the size and color are some of the identifying features.

It was a fine and light wind day in April this year. While on one of our Seal & Ocean Expedition tours, we were cruising across Munroe Bight, when we spotted a small dorsal fin. The initial, most likely call was that it was a small pod of Common Dolphins – at times we see these daily. As we moved closer to the area we noticed that the classic dolphin surface intervals were distinctly different and we realised that this sighting was something different, quite likely a small whale, possibly a Dwarf Minke Whale. A few more momentary glimpses and some photos we could cross-reference with our on-board chart and it became clear that we had something very unique around us: a pod of Pygmy Right Whales. Not knowing at the time, there had been less than than 25 recorded sightings at sea, we still knew that this could possibly be the first and last encounter for us with these rare animals. 5 in total, 2hrs later and some 700 photos we reluctantly left them to continue their journey.

According to the research paper by R. Ewan Fordyce and Felix G. Marx, the Pygmy Right Whale, Caperea marginata, is the smallest, most cryptic and least known of the living baleen whales (Mysticeti). As far as we know, there have been less than 25 ‘at sea’ sightings worldwide.

Superficially, it has an arched mouth, long thin baleen but unlike other Right Whales it has a dorsal fin and when researchers look into their anatomy and the relationships with other species of Whales it starts to become unclear which family it belongs to. These Whales are not actually Right Whales. Their latin name Caperea Marginata comes from Caperea – ‘wrinkled’ from wrinkles on the ear bone and Marginata from the black margin on the edge of the baleen plates or filter plates. They have a massive rib cage compared to body size and have flattened ribs from front to back as if to shield internal organs like an Armadillo, no other Baleen whales have this. First described in 1846 by renowned Zoologist, John Edward Gary, Pygmy Right Whales are the smallest of the Baleen (filter feeding) Whales, growing to around 6m in length and weighing around 4500kgs. Some researchers believe the Pygmy Right Whale (Caperea marginata) is a member of the Cetotheres, a family of baleen whales, which until 2012 were thought to be extinct.

The dorsal fin of a rare Pygmy right Whale in Tasmania.
The dorsal fin of one of the rare Pygmy Right Whales we encountered in Monroe Bight, between Cape Hauy and Cape Pillar (Tasman Peninsula).

Love the Ocean, eat more plants & travel responsibly 🙂

Our encounter with the pod of Pygmy Right Whales was another example of how unique our marine environment is and how little we know about it. If you want to minimise your impact on the Ocean and its inhabitants, it is essential to consciously reduce your footprint, reduce your plastic consumption, buy food and goods from as close to home as possible, learn about nutrition and eat more plants. Future generations will thank you for it!

The best time to see Whales in Tasmania with us is during the Humpback Whale migration periods between June and July and October until the end of December, when thousands of Humpback Whales migrate past Tasmania, to and from their feeding grounds in Antartica. Southern Right Whales can also often be seen from land based viewing areas all around the south-east and east Tasmanian coasts during winter and spring.

If you would like to make a booking for an ethical wildlife watching tour with us, you can check out our tour options and availability here.

WOT – Approved Sea Shepherd Dive Partner

Now partnering with Sea Shepherd Dive!

Wild Ocean Tasmania is now Sea Shepherd approved dive partner

We’re stoked to announce that we are now an approved and active Sea Shepherd Dive Partner. To be able to join the Sea Shepherd Dive community, businesses prove that they place marine conservation at the forefront of their operating activities. Sea Shepherd Dive partners donate monthly and adopt the program Rules and Ethics.

These include the following:

  • Look don’t touch
  • No stressing of marine creatures
  • No feeding of marine wildlife
  • No fishing or mollusc or shellfish collection
  • No removing of anything
  • No anchoring where possible & using environmentally safe practises when anchoring or mooring
  • No serving of fish or seafood

All these ethics have been a vital part of our operations from the first day we started Wild Ocean Tasmania. The partnership with Sea Shepherd Dive offers the perfect opportunity for us to manifest these ethics and to support a great organisation in the fight for the health of our Oceans.

 

 

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Sea Shepherd Dive is proud to announce our newest partner and first in Tasmania – @wildoceantasmania! Jump on their website now to book your next ocean adventure, and be safe in the knowledge these guys uphold the Sea Shepherd conservation values www.wildoceantasmania.com.au Wild Ocean Tasmania are a small, couple-owned & operated business. They take their guests to stunning natural sites that can only be reached by boat and encourage an ethical interaction with the precious marine life they encounter in the hope to raise awareness for the importance of the protection of these amazing animals, the natural environment and ultimately ourselves. By joining their tours, you also support their private wildlife rehabilitation projects. Sea Shepherd Dive are recruiting dive businesses to join with Sea Shepherd to drive up industry standards throughout Australia and New Zealand. Thinking of joining our Dive family? Check out the benefits and requirements of our scheme here: www.seashepherd.org.au/dive #SeaShepherdDive #diving #underwater #FortheOceans @seashepherd_tas

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If you would like to embark on an ethical wildlife boat tour and support Ocean conservation, follow this link to check out our tour options!

New Wildlife enclosures taking shape

The first two enclosures are done!

Womby happy in the new temporary enclosure

We have been busy behind the scenes, working on the first few of the new wildlife enclosures that we have planned to build this season. Look how happy Womby looks in the transitional outdoor enclosure! 🙂

We started with the new Wallaby enclosure in October. The old one has served twenty Pademelons and Bennett’s Wallabies over the last 5 years and needed to be replaced.

The progress of building a Wallaby enclosure

New wildlife enclosure made with recycled materials
We are using mainly recycled materials that are also aesthetic and functional for the purpose of keeping the orphaned wildlife safe.

Plan for the new enclosure was to use mainly recycled, strong and long lasting materials. Of course we wanted it to be aesthetically appealing and safe for the animals as well. We chose an area on the property that was partly open and sunny, but also had enough trees and foliage to provide some natural shelter and shade for the wildlife.

New grass shoots
New grass shoots coming through. A week of light precipitation helped the grass grow quickly.

Additionally to those natural features, we mounted up some large branches and soil to create a spot for the animals to hide under cover. We also managed to sow some grass just before we had a week of light precipitation (it has been super dry for months!!), which was perfect timing and really helped the grass grow quickly.

Lush grass after a week of drizzle
Beautiful lush grass for the animals to feed on.

Although the enclosure was not quite finished yet, we were ready for a test run. Our oldest Bennett’s Wallaby Joey Barney got introduced to the new outside enclosure first and seemed to love it!

First Wallaby joey is getting introduced to new outside enclosure
Not quite finished yet, but ready for a test run.

Moving into the new wildlife enclosure
First time in the new wildlife enclosure – Getting used to the new environment.

Barney enjoyed to have a good hop around and scoped out the new shelter straight away. Wallabies naturally seek a place under cover to be safe from predators like birds of prey.

Barney discovering the new shelter
Barney discovering the new shelter.

After a little while checking out the area from his shelter, he felt safe to explore the area a bit further and munch on that juicy grass! 🙂

Wallaby Joey Barney has accepted the new shelter.

Barney looks very happy about his new home
Barney looks very happy about his new home.

Now we just had to finish off the last few details of the enclosure. Chicken wire had to be wrapped around the top of the fence to prevent the wallabies from jumping over it. Some friendly folks helped us with this task and it was done in no time. 🙂

Newly finished wildlife enclosure
The newly finished wildlife enclosure.

Because we currently have three Bennett’s Wallabies in care, we also needed a relatively large shelter to hang up their pouches under cover and to provide a warm area for them to rest on windy and rainy days.

Carrying the newly built shelter into the enclosure
Carrying the newly built shelter into the enclosure.

Animal shelter check
Shelter check  – Yup… It’s big enough! 🙂

As usual, Barney was more than happy to try the new pouch set-up for us. Looking very comfortable!

Hanging pouch in Wallaby shelter
Hanging pouch set-up in Wallaby shelter.

Stoked!! The first enclosure is done. Ready to start the next one! 🙂

New temporary Wombat enclosure is up next

Womby came into care when she was about 2.8kg and has been growing and putting on weight nicely. Time for her to move into a very sheltered outside area, that should serve her for the next couple of months.

Baby Wombat making herself at home in the new burrow

Wombats loooove tunnels,  burrows and digging up soil. All these features were needed for the transitional enclosure. Plus it had to be very sheltered from wind and rain, because Womby is still quite small, weighing 5.5kg now, and she likes it nice and cosy.

Tunnel and burrow system for the Wombat
Tunnel and burrow system for the Wombat.

The photo above shows the tunnel and burrow system we created for her. We used soil, rocks a log and tree stumps to make up a natural looking entrance to the tunnel. The whole enclosure is filled in with soft dirt and rocks, so Womby can dig freely. Digging is an essential skill for a Wombat joey to gain before it can be released.

Time for Womby to explore the new enclosure.

Womby getting introduced to burrow system
Womby getting introduced to the burrow.

Similar to Wallaby joeys, Wombats also seek a safe shelter naturally. She scoped out the entrance to the tunnel that leads towards her burrow straight away. Then she started playing and dug into the tunnel, turned around, came back out and raced back into the tunnel. Practicing important life skills. 🙂

Thanks for your support!

A big THANK YOU to all the lovely people who have joined our tours in the past. You help fund our wildlife rescue and rehabilitation work, as part of the tour rate goes towards our wildlife orphans to pay for their milk formula, medication, building materials etc.

 

Rescued Wombat joey in pouch
Thank you!! 🙂 – Womby

 

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A visit from a Royal

One of the largest birds in the World!

Tasman Arch on misty day
Thick sea fog set a moody scene when we stopped at Tasman’s Arch.

Last week, a quite unusual weather pattern over Tasmania created a moody scene with thick fog along the coast for three days, limiting the vision to about 150m in places. This didn’t restrict the photo opportunities, since the mist raising up through the entrances of caves and arches made the coastal features appear even more dramatic. 🙂

Sea fog at the Candlestick
The Candlestick and Totempole at Cape Hauy breaking through the mist.

We expected it to be rather tricky to spot much wildlife other than the Seals in those conditions, but we got treated with a visit from a Royal on Thursday. About 1 nautical mile east of o’Hara’s Bluff, a Southern Royal Albatross flew right towards our boat and left everyone on board speechless after seeing its impressive wingspan.

Southern Royal Albatross appears in the sea fog
Southern Royal Albatross appearing in the sea fog.

Beside the Wandering Albatross, the Southern Royal Albatross is one of the two largest species of Albatrosses with an average wingspan of over 3m and an average weight of 8.5kg. These birds are rarely seen in the coastal waters of Tasmania. They mature between the ages of 6 and 12 years old, which is when they form a usually lifelong monogamous bond with a partner with whom they will mate every other year. If they are successful the female will lay one egg which both her and her partner will incubate. When the chick hatches, the parents share the responsibilities of feeding and raising it. They usually like to nest on plateaus, ridges or tussock grassland, with the majority of the Southern Royal Albatross nesting places located on the Subantarctic Campbell Island. Significantly smaller colonies can be found on Auckland Island and Adams Island as well as Enderby Island.

Southern Royal Albatross inshore in Tasmania
Close up photograph of a Southern Royal Albatross showing the distinguishing features.

Since Southern Royal Albatrosses are such a rarity in our area we weren’t 100% sure at first if it was truly one of them or a similar looking Northern Royal, or maybe a Wandering Albatross, however upon closer inspection of the photos we could clearly see the characteristic black cutting edge on the pink bill and the clean white leading edge on the wings. It was also missing the peach coloured neck spot usually seen in Wandering Albatrosses.

Getting to see such a rare animal up close reminds us how important it is to protect our Oceans and the creatures living in and around it. Even though the population is recovering after being severely depleted around 1930 (mainly due to the destruction of their nesting places in order to create farmland), human influences like longline fishing and plastic pollution are still major threats to these magnificent animals.

If you are traveling to Tasmania this season and would like to learn more about marine conservation and spot some local wildlife,  check out our tour options. We would love to share a day on the water with you!

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!