As we step into another boating season, we’re thrilled to share the wonders of the Tasmanian waters with you. The sun is shining, and the ocean is teeming with life once again. This weekend, we operated the first tours of the season and had some amazing wildlife encounters already.
This year, ‘Smiley’ popped up on our first tour of the season on Friday, together with a friend, and again on both of our Saturday trips. It’ll be interesting to see how long ‘Smiley’ decides to stay in the area this year.
Coastal waters teeming with wildlife
In addition to our heartwarming encounters with ‘Smiley’ and the other Humpback Whales, we were privileged to witness the joyful company of around 100 Common Dolphins, gracefully playing in the waters alongside their whale companions. It was awesome to see how they interacted. The dolphins seemed as excited as we were to welcome back the majestic Humpback Whales.
The skies above were graced by soaring albatrosses and terns feeding on fish. And, of course, our beloved resident seals added their charming presence to complete the scene.
Nature’s grand performance is in full swing, and we can’t wait to share these moments with you on our boat tours.
A huge Blue Whale cruised south along this coastline yesterday
We often have the opportunity to see incredible marine wildlife in the coastal waters of Tasmania. However, one recent sighting stands out among the rest – a rare Blue Whale!
Now, if you’re not up on your marine biology, Blue Whales are seriously massive. David Attenborough would be talking about how they can grow up to 100 feet in length and weigh as much as 200(!) tons. Yes, you read that right: Two. Hundred. Tons.
I’ll never forget listening to him talk about the Blue Whale’s anatomy in one of his documentaries:
“The heart of the blue whale is the size of a small car, and its tongue alone can weigh as much as an elephant.”
It’s hard to wrap your head around just how massive these animals are. Their blows can reach a height of 9 to 12 meters.
We captured a nice blow yesterday in the image below. The island in the background is the Hippolyte Rock which is 65 meters tall.
Where can Blue Whales be found around Australia?
Blue Whales can be found in all of the world’s oceans, but in Australia, they tend to hang out in the deep waters off the southern and western coasts, especially during the summer months. Blue Whales are known to feed on krill in the Southern Ocean, and this food source can sometimes bring them closer to shore.
Did you know that Blue Whales are an endangered species? They face a number of threats, including accidental entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, noise pollution, overfishing and climate change, which is altering ocean temperatures and currents. This can affect the distribution and abundance of the krill that Blue Whales depend on for food.
Blue Whale Research
There is ongoing research about Blue Whales, for example in the waters south of Victoria. This area is known to be an important feeding ground for Blue Whales during the summer months, and researchers are working to better understand the movements and behaviours of these animals in this region.
One ongoing study is being conducted by the Blue Whale Study, a research organization based in Victoria. The study uses a combination of visual surveys, acoustic monitoring, and satellite tagging to track the movements of Blue Whales in the area and gather data on their feeding habits and population size. This research is important for improving our understanding of these animals and informing conservation efforts to protect them.
Seeing a Blue Whale in the wild is seriously a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we feel very lucky that we had several opportunities over the last few years to share something so special with our guests.
If you are interested in reading more about previous Blue Whale sightings in this area, check out our other blog posts:
Our first tour for the 2021/22 season was scheduled for the 18th September, as this is usually the time when the first whales are slowly starting to arrive in Tassie waters. This year however, they seemed to be on the move much earlier. We received reports of Whale sightings all through September and people were keen to get out and go on a search. Of course we couldn’t say no and we were able to put our vessel back in the water earlier than planned.
We are already seeing Humpback Whales on most of our trips. It looks very promising that this year is going to be another epic season, similar to last year. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the whales choose to gather again in high numbers to feed along the coastline of the Tasman Peninsula, like they did in October and November 2020.
First flukes for the Tasmanian Fluke Project
A fair few of the first Humpback Whales we’ve sighted have been quite active and showed their beautiful flukes. The flukes are like our fingerprints individual to every Humpback Whale. We take photos of the Whales flukes and together with Dr. Maddie Brasier from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) we upload them to an online database called ‘Happywhale’. The online program helps us log the sightings and track the whales movements. Since we put our boat back in the water last week, we’ve already re-sighted one of the Whales that we saw in November 2020. Hopefully there are many more re-sights (or matches as we call them) to come!
Fantastic sighting of rare Whale species last week
Beside the Humpback Whales, two rare Whale Species to Tasmanian coastal waters have been reported this week as well by local Tim Cunningham. Early one morning, he spotted a large group of 10-15 Sei Whales and some Minke Whales towards lunch time. The Sei Whale is the third largest rorqual after the Blue and the Fin Whale. So the sheer size of the animal is very impressive. The Sei Whale is also one of the fastest Whales, reaching speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
What a special encounter! The last time we saw Sei Whales here on this coastline was in 2018!
We hope you enjoyed reading about our research projects and the amazing animals we’re privileged to encounter here on the Southeast coast of Tasmania. If you would like to join us, head over to our booking system and reserve your seats online. Tours depart daily at 9am and 2.30pm, depending on the weather conditions.
New paper published about the formation of ‘super-groups’ of Humpback Whales and bubble-net feeding in East Australian waters
The last Humpback Whale migration south, between September and November 2020, has really been something special. Not only in Tasmania, but all along the south-east coast of Australia.
We’re excited that we had the opportunity to contribute photographic evidence of the formation of ‘super-groups’ of Humpback Whales as well as ‘bubble-net feeding’ behaviour to a scientific paper that got published two days ago. The paper by Vanessa Pirotta, Kylie Owen, David Donnelly, Madeleine J. Brasier, Robert Harcourt is titled: First evidence of bubble-net feeding and the formation of ‘super-groups’ by the east Australian population of Humpback Whales during their southward migration. If you are interested, you can access the full paper here. It’s definitely worth a read! 🙂
First recorded evidence of bubble-net feeding by Humpback Whales off Tasmania and East Australia
Dr. Maddie Brasier, who is one of the co-authors of the paper and also our ‘in-house’ marine biologist has put together why this publication is another important step towards ensuring the conservation of Humpback Whales in Tasmanian and east Australian waters, so read on:
Pirotta’s paper includes three accounts of bubble-net feeding within Tasmanian waters, all three of which were recorded by Wild Ocean Tasmania.
What is bubble-net feeding?
Bubble-net feeding is when Humpback Whales expel air underwater to create a ring of bubbles around their prey. They then lunge towards the surface inside that ring of bubbles, engulfing a massive mouthful of food. Bubble-net-feeding can be performed by single individuals or multiple animals lunging into the same bubble-net. All observations of bubble-net feeding by Wild Ocean Tasmania in the 2020 summer season involved single individuals.
To create the bubble-nets, Humpback Whales turn tightly whilst expelling air. Humpbacks can do this, because their huge flippers are edged with tubercules. These fist-sized bumps contain one hair follicle that is connected to a series of sensitive nerves. The tubercules increase lift and decrease drag as they swim through the water. These physical features make them incredibly hydrodynamic and more agile than other whale species.
Prior to the observations recorded in Pirotta et al. bubble-net feeding in the Southern Hemisphere had only been formally documented in Antarctica. These new observations are really exciting, and we feel incredibly lucky to have documented these events in Tasmanian waters.
Why are these observations important?
It was believed that Humpback Whales followed the “feast and famine” rule whilst migrating, feeding only in their polar feeding grounds, then fasting on migration and in their sub-tropical calving grounds. We now know this is not the case, with many records and sightings of Humpback Whales feeding during their migration in previous years, including many Wild Ocean Tasmania sightings here in Tasmanian waters.
Feeding during migration, also referred to as supplementary feeding, suggests that there is a need for Humpback Whales to supplement their energy supply outside of their summer feeding in Antarctica. Supplementary feeding may become increasingly important as our Oceans change. Flexibility in feeding practices is important for a species’ ability to adapt to changing Ocean conditions such as increased temperatures and nutrient availability. As temperature and nutrients influence the Ocean productivity, this can ultimately affect the distribution and abundance of prey species for larger marine species like Humpback Whales.
It is also possible that specialised behaviours such as bubble-net feeding may be increasingly observed as the East Australian Humpback Whale population continues to recover from industrial whaling. Such behaviours may have been present prior to over-exploitation, but are only now reappearing and being observed.
What does this mean for Tasmanian waters?
At present we do not fully understand the importance of Tasmania as a feeding ground to Humpback Whales and other cetacean species. However, by investigating how environmental variation and population dynamics can influence the feeding of Humpback Whales in Tasmanian waters, it will help us predict how future Ocean change may influence whale populations. This could also provide evidence for more effective management to reduce threats to Whales during known feeding periods.
The observations in Pirotta et al. were primarily from citizen scientists and highlight the importance of observing and recording our wildlife. In Tasmania you can contribute your whale sightings to the Tasmania Fluke Project (email your photos to email@example.com or to Wild Ocean Tasmania), or report your sighting to the DPIPWE Marine Conservation Programme. So get out there and tell us what you see!
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!