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.
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.