Whale re-sights prove to be valuable data for research projects

‘Smiley’ the Humpback Whale is easily identified by a marking on its right fluke that looks like a smiley face. 🙂

‘Smiley’ the Humpback Whale is back

Remember ‘Smiley’ the Humpback Whale? This whale was first logged on the 5th April last year and became a good friend to us. Smiley decided to stay in the area for 87 days last year, with the last sighting recorded on 1st July. This whale is also quite inquisitive and flukes a lot, which makes the tracking relatively easy.

We sighted ‘Smiley’ again last Sunday, the 29th May, on our afternoon cruise and a second time on Saturday, the 4th June. It’ll be interesting to see if ‘Smiley’ decides to stay in this area again for a longer period of time. We’re only in our second year of the Tasmanian Fluke Project and it already offers invaluable data to demonstrate the importance of Tasmania to the East Australian Humpback Whales.

A Humpback Whale’s tail before a deep dive.

Feeding Humpback Whales

The Humpback Whale migration North is in full swing and we’re seeing whales on most of our trips. Nothing in nature is ever guaranteed, but now is a good time to get out on a boat tour and chance it. It is estimated that less than 1% of people living on planet Earth will see a whale in their lifetime. Therefore, any time you see a whale, even one whale, you are truly privileged.

This weekend our passengers got treated to an even rarer occurrence. Not many people would ever get to watch Humpback Whales feed, as their main feeding grounds are located in the cold waters of Antarctica. However, feeding behaviour can sometimes be seen in the Tasman Sea as well. In fact, during their southern migration in 2020, supergroups of Humpback Whales have been observed feeding all along the south east coast of Australia. It’s impressive watching these animals open up their big mouths to scoop up their prey.

A Humpback Whale lunge feeding off the coast of the Tasman Peninsula near Eaglehawk Neck.

Different feeding behaviours can be observed:

Lunge feeding

Lunge feeding is a behaviour during which a whale consumes a large quantity of prey and water after a high-speed horizontal or vertical propulsion, followed then by the removal of water through closed-mouth filtration.

Echelon feeding

Echelon feeding involves two or more cetaceans swimming in a “V” formation. One whale is typically in front and another is off to the side and slightly behind the first. This method may help funnel missed prey into the whale following behind.

Bubble-net feeding

Bubble-net feeding is a method where the whales release nets or curtains of bubbles from their blowholes around a school of fish or krill in an attempt to move their prey into a smaller area. When the bubble net is finished, encircling the prey, the whales swim up through the circle of bubbles with their mouths open and swallow the prey.

Flick feeding

Flick feeding is a method where a whale sits near the surface and slaps its tail on the surface of the water. This behavior likely concentrates krill and other small prey in front of the whale. The whale then swims quickly through the area capturing the concentrated prey.

A Humpback Whale bubble-net feeding off the Tasman Peninsula near Eaglehawk Neck.

We’re expecting to see Humpback Whales regularly on our trips until we finish up for the season in early July. You can check our availability here.

Orca re-sights end of May

A male Orca at sunset in Pirates Bay, Eaglehawk Neck.

Not only Humpback Whales look for food along the coast oil the Tasman Peninsula. Only a couple of weeks ago, we were lucky to track a pod of Killer Whales. The whales looked very familiar and Dave Donnelly who manages the ID catalogue of the East Australian Killer Whales confirmed that three of the four animals have been positively identified as EA_0060, EA_0062 and ‘Bent Tip’. The female appeared to be hunting tuna and she shared her prey with the male.

A female Orca off Eaglehawk Neck in the Tasman Sea.

Killer Whales can be identified by their dorsal fins (distinctive shape, nicks and scratches), their saddle patch (the area just behind the dorsal fin) and their eye patch. If you’d like to learn how to identify individual Killer whales, you can find out more about the different identification methods in our blog post, where we talk about tracking Orcas for research purposes.