Have you noticed that the Ocean has changed colour in Tasmania, from a clear blue to a deep green? The water appears to be a bit murky or ‘soupy’. This is caused from billions of microscopic algae and shrimp-like animals. These tiny drifting organisms are food for some of the largest animals that live in the Ocean.
A few days ago, we had the pleasure of watching a Southern Right Whale have it’s lunch on our Seal & Ocean Expedition. The Southern Right Whale is a member of the ‘Baleen Whale’ family. These Whales don’t have any teeth and feed by filtering food through 220-260 baleen plates that are up to 2.8 meters long and hang from each side of their upper jaws.
Unlike the Humpback Whales that would often undertake some spectacular feeding displays, Southern Right Whales swim with a steady open-mouthed movement through prey swarms, trapping their prey in their baleen bristles, while also filtering water out of their mouth (see photo above).
To the disappointment of the researchers, there was no poo that we could have sampled, but we are very eager to collect some samples during the Whale season to help the scientists with their work, so they can analyse how Baleen Whales stimulate microbial communities through nutrients released in their faeces.
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And if you are traveling to Tasmania this season and would like to learn more about why whales are so important for the Oceans health and life on Earth, then come and join one of our tours. We’d love to have you on board!
Tasmanias South East – One of the most cetacean rich corners of the World
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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! 🙂
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. 🙂
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.
As usual, Barney was more than happy to try the new pouch set-up for us. Looking very comfortable!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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:
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! 🙂
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
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 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.
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.
And this pour, dead Cormorant got thrown through the air.
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. 😉
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.
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!
An unexpected encounter with a Blue Whale on our afternoon cruise
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?
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
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.