Exciting findings during our Winter Whale Season Research

Data base matches & ‘resident’ Humpback Whales

Winter whale research in Tasmania

Last spring and early summer, we were lucky to see a huge number of Humpback Whales passing through Tassie waters as they headed south to Antarctica. It has been the best season for us by far! During this time, we were really successful in collecting identification images of Humpback Whale flukes (the underside of the tail that is unique to each whale) as part of the Tasmanian Fluke Project, wich we set up in collaboration with Dr. Maddie Brasier from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS).

Since Easter we have been looking out for Humpback Whales once again, excited to see if we could re-sight any of these whales (or new ones) as they migrate north for winter. Dr. Maddie Brasier has put together a few interesting findings that we’ve made during this years winter whale season:

3-month-long resident Humpback Whale

This is ‘Smiley’, our ‘resident’ Humpback Whale that has now spent 3 months here on our coastline between April and July.

A sub-adult Humpback Whale was spotted off the Tasmanian Peninsula regularly – by ourselves and other boat operators – between the 5th of April and 1st July. This is super exciting for us, as it’s been over 87 days of re-sights and it shows that the east coast of Tasmania is an area of significance for Humpback Whales. We nick-named this whale ‘Smiley’ because of a smiley face mark on its fluke. Smiley was spotted feeding on krill and bait fish throughout this time and can be found on the ‘Happywhale’ database under the whale ID number HW-MN1110190.

How the coloration of the flukes can change

This is ‘Speckles’, easily identified by its target-like marking on the upper left fluke.

We re-sighted a whale that we observed off Tasmania last November and noticed distinct changes in the colouration on its fluke. The spots on its flukes darkened from grey to black. This can happen as the whale matures. We were still able to match the whale, due to the shape of the trailing edge of the fluke and a distinctive target-like mark on its left hand side. You can see this, if you zoom in on the photo above.

We nick-named this whale ‘Speckles’. On several occasions, Speckles was observed feeding together with other whales including Smiley. Speckles can be found on the ‘Happywhale’ database under the whale ID number HW-MN1110103.

The importance of collaboration between citizen scientists and marine researchers

Some of the Humpback Whales have come together to put on an amazing display in the pink evening light.

Whilst we have been uploading our fluke images to Happywhale, other organisations have been doing it too. The Pacific Whale Foundation for example have been collecting fluke images from the Hervey Bay region in Queensland since the 1980s. We have had several updates to tell us that their images have matched with our Tassie whales including: 

A whale with the ID number HW-MN1110017 who was first sighted off New South Wales in 1994 then in Tasmania in 2020.

HW-MN1100317  first sighted off Queensland in 1986, then in New South Wales in 2007, in Queensland in 2009 and then in Tasmania in 2018.

HW-MN1110005 first sighted off Queensland in 1990 and re-sighted in 1991, 1993 and 1997. It has also been sighted off New South Wales in 2004 and 2007. It was first sighted off Tasmania in 2018.

HW-MN1110161 first sighted off Queensland in 1988, then in New South Wales in 1997 and 2007 and in Tasmania in 2007 by the Marine Conservation Program.

These updates are great to make you feel part of the journey of these whales. It’s amazing to think that some of these individuals have been swimming past our shores twice a year for over 30 years!

Thanks to our contributors!

Whale-watching during the winter months in Tasmania

This winter, we have collected fluke images for twelve “new” whales. We’d like to thank Lily Barnett, Els Wakefield, Angela Siejka and Tim Cunningham for their contribution of whale fluke photos to our project. This highlights how important ‘citizen science’ can be to support modern marine research!

If you have any fluke images you would like to contribute, please email them to Dr. Maddie Brasier at madeleine.brasier@utas.edu.au. Alternatively, you can create an account at www.happywhale.com and upload them yourself. They will then be forwarded to Maddie for matching. 

And if you are interested in further reading about our Tasmanian Fluke Project or the scientific paper we got to contribute to this year about the formation of super-groups of Humpback Whales and bubble-net feeding on our coast, you can click on the links provided.

We are running our tours until the 15th July. Then, we will have a short winter break until mid September. Our new season starts on the 18th September and our online booking system shows the live availability. If you are planning to visit Tasmania, we would love to take you on our 2+hour Scenic Tour or join us on our Half-Day Seal & Ocean Expedition and jump in the water to snorkel with the seals! We look forward to sharing it with you! 🙂