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!
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! 🙂