Tag Archives: Whale watching tours Tasmania

Orca attacks a baby Dolphin off Eaglehawk Neck

This Orca charges towards our boat as the Dolphin calf tries to get away from its predator.

Witnessing Killer Whales predate on a Bottlenose Dolphin calf

The passengers of two of our Scenic Tours had a once in a lifetime experience on Saturday when we witnessed a pod of Orcas hunt and kill a Bottlenose Dolphin calf. We’ve been collaborating with researchers from Killer Whales Australia since we started our boat tour business in 2014 and we have been waiting to capture a moment like this for years! It’s like watching a wildlife documentary unfold right in front of your eyes!

Orca herds the baby dolphin & pushes it out to sea

An Orca popped up beside our vessel, getting ready for the attack on the Dolphin calf.

It all started with a big splash that our skipper spotted on the first tour on Saturday morning. We’re in the middle of the Humpback Whale migration and everyone on board was keen to find some active whales. As we headed in the direction where the splash was spotted, we came across a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. Usually, Bottlenose Dolphins are extremely playful creatures and tend to charge towards our boat to play in the wake. This time, they behaved differently. The Dolphins seemed to have split into several smaller groups heading in different directions. It was obvious that something was going on and within seconds we spotted the large black dorsal fin of an Orca.

This photo shows the Orca rounding up the tiny baby Dolphin (to the left of its dorsal fin).

We are still waiting for the researchers from Killer Whales Australia to confirm this, but it was likely a female Orca who separated a Dolphin calf from the pod, herded it and made it swim further out to sea. We watched the brutal attacks from the Orca, charging at the helpless little Dolphin calf, pushing it and grabbing it by its pectoral flipper.

The baby Dolphin tried hard to get away from its predator, even swam towards our boat several times to seek cover. It appeared that the Orca just wanted to let the dolphin calf wear itself out.

Orca charging at the Dolphin calf upside down.
The Killer Whales grabs the baby Dolphin by its pectoral flipper as it tries to escape.

Will we find the Killer Whales again on our 2nd trip?

It was hard to leave the scene, but we had already extended our trip by 50 minutes and we had the next group of people waiting at the pier, eager to get out on the water as well. So we headed back to the pier to swap groups. Everyone knew it was a very slim chance to find the Orcas again as about an hour would have passed by the time we got back out to the area where we expected the Orcas to be. We called some recreational fishermen on the way out, but no-one had seen the Killer Whales. As we approached the area where we would expect the Orcas, we slowed down to scan the surroundings and there was certainly a lot of luck involved when the huge dorsal fin of a male Orca appeared.

Two Killer Whales side by side.

Not long after, we saw the baby Dolphin floating on the surface. One of the Orcas grabbed it again and it was super sad to watch the little dolphin die. At the same time it was a very humbling experience for everyone on board to be there at the right time when those incredible apex predators made a successful kill. The Orcas then popped up again with open flesh in their mouths which proves that the dolphin was killed to feed on and not just for play. This is valuable data for the researchers. Over the last few years we have been supporting a PHD candidate who is looking into the diet of Killer Whales in South East Australian waters. You can check out this blog post to find out more about the research that has been done off the Tasman Peninsula.

Tasmanian Whale Season started early this year!

Whale season already in full swing

A Humpback whale slapping its tail at the start of the Tasmanian whale migration season mid September.

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

This is one of the first Whale flukes we uploaded to the ‘Happywhale’ database this season to track the Whales movements.

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!

You can read more about the Tasmanian Fluke Project on this blog post. We’d love as many people as possible to become involved as citizen scientists. 🙂

To check where, when and how many Humpback Whales have been logged in Tasmania since we started the project, click on this link and type in ‘Tasmania’ in the search bar. Keep in mind that not all whales fluke or we may not get a sharp photo of the tail, so the number of whales sighted in total is much higher than the number of whales logged.

Fantastic sighting of rare Whale species last week

Bushy blow of a Sei Whale
This photo shows the bushy blow of the Sei Whales and its long body.

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.

We look forward to sharing it with you! 🙂

Tasmanian Whale Fluke Project

A peduncle throw of a Humpback Whale
This behaviour is known as a ‘peduncle throw’. The peduncle of a whale is the muscular area where the tail fluke connects to the body. The whale powerfully throws its tail sideways, slamming the water with a big splash.

Each year we cannot wait for the moment when our East Australian Humpback Whales swim past the Tasmanian coast as they migrate between their sub-tropical breeding grounds and their Antarctic feeding grounds. Relatively little research has been done outside of these breeding and feeding areas, that’s why we joined forces with our marine biologist friend Dr Mads (Maddie Brasier, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies UTAS) and we started the Tasmania Fluke Project.

This project is all about investigating the importance of Tasmania to the East Australian Humpback Whales by collecting ‘fluke’ images. The fluke is the underside of the whale’s tail that is raised above the water as the whale dives, tail slaps or throws the peduncle. Each fluke is unique in its markings, scars, and trailing edge which means they can be used to identify individual whales, a bit like our fingerprints.

A tail-slapping Humpback Whale in Tasmanian waters
A whale’s fluke is unique to each individual, just like our fingerprints. Taking photos of the flukes helps us identify the whales and monitor their movements.

Fluke identification is a non-invasive scientific method that has been the basis of whale research since the 1970s. By matching our Tasmanian flukes, we can start to understand how long individual whales are spending in Tasmanian waters and if individual whales are returning to Tasmania each year. We are also comparing them to an international dataset at Happywhale.com which can help us understand transit times and migration routes as they travel between the poles and the sub tropics.

It has been amazing to see an incredible number of Humpback Whales off the Tasmanian coastline this year. We’ve been seeing whales on every trip for nearly two months now. But it has not been this way for some time. Just 60 years ago the Humpback Whale population was reduced to less than 1000 individuals! However, since the ban on commercial whaling, Humpback Whale numbers have been increasing and could be approaching >40,000 Whales in the next few years (Noad et al. 2019).

A Humpback Whale slapping its tail in front of Tasman Island
A Humpback Whale slapping its tail with Cape Pillar and Tasman Island in the background.

Despite this increase, Whales and other marine life are still threatened by human activities and our impact on the ocean, including entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris, boat collisions / vessel strikes, plastic ingestion, chemical pollution and climate induced ecosystem change.

We hope that the Tasmania Fluke Project can help raise awareness about the importance of Tasmania to the east Australian Humpback Whale population as a migratory stopover.

You can help by sending any fluke images you would like to contribute to Dr Mads (madeleine.brasier@utas.edu.au or @madsbrasier on Instagram), by reporting any sightings of entangled Whales to the Tasmanian Whale hotline (0427 942 537) and of course by actively supporting Ocean conservation.

The logo of the Tasmania Fluke Project

Here are some of the easiest ways to help the Whales and our Oceans: 

  1. Support responsible whale watching companies 
  2. Abide by national whale watching guidelines when you are on the water
  3. Eat less seafood and only eat seafood from sustainable sources (check out the sustainable seafood guide
  4. Reduce your plastic use and keep the Seas clean by disposing of rubbish responsibly
  5. Help clean up our beaches and waterways
A powerful peduncle throw performed by a Humpback Whale on tour with Wild Ocean Tasmania
Another powerful peduncle throw, performed by one of the Humpback Whales we spotted on our tour.

Hope you have been enjoying the Whales this season, if you haven’t seen them yet, make sure you get out there (you can book your tickets here).

If you’d like to stay up to date with the sightings that we’ve had and the fluke images that have been captured along the Tasmanian East coast, check out our project page on ‘Happywhale’ at https://happywhale.com/org/878