Rare whale sighting in coastal waters

The last thing we would have expected to see on our Coastal Adventure last Wednesday was a baleen whale… While Humpback Whales can be seen on our coastline almost daily between October and December and Orcas, who belong to the family of toothed whales, are frequent visitors to Tasmania’s coastal waters all year round, other species of whales are not that common inshore.

Whale low amongst dolphins
A misty blow of a baleen whale appears amongst hundreds of Bottlenose Dolphins.

We stopped our vessel to enjoy the company of a huge pod of about 500 Bottlenose Dolphins as a large misty blow appeared in amongst all the action. No need to explain how excited we were! It was obvious that this species of whale was a rare visitor to Tasmania’s coastal waters.

Blowholes of a Fin Whale
Fin Whales belong to the family of baleen whales which have two blowholes. Their blow can therefore easily be distinguished from toothed whales which only have one blowhole.

Sei Whale or Fin Whale?

We quickly grabbed our camera to hopefully get some ID shots. The sickle shape of the dorsal fin, the dark bluish-grey colour of the dorsal surface when looking against the sunlight, the blow and the size of this animal (about 15+ meters long) all indicated that it might be a Sei Whale. But the turquoise colour when below the surface confused us a little. The animal appeared to maybe even be a Fin Whale, the second largest living animal on the planet. Fin Whales make the lowest frequency sound in nature which can be heard by other Fin Whales thousands of kilometres away. Pretty incredible!!

Both the Sei Whales and the Fin Whales are listed as endangered. They have been excessively hunted for their meat, blubber, oil and baleen during the commercial whaling time. Recent surveys indicate that there are now fewer than 15,000 Fin Whales in the Southern Hemisphere and around 40,000 in the Northern Hemisphere. The current population of Sei Whales is estimated at 80,000, nearly a third of the prewhaling population.

Fin Whale underwater
The light turquoise colour of this whale when below the surface confused us a little, suggesting it might even be a Fin or Blue whale.

We handed our photos over to our marine research colleagues to find out what sort of whale this might have been. Unfortunately, the whale didn’t show it’s rostrum nor it’s tail and the researchers are still undecided what type of whale we’ve encountered. Regardless of the species, it was a great experience for everyone on board. Especially our youngest sailors will have a lot to tell their friends after the school holidays! 🙂

UPDATE: According to the team of the Marine Conservation Program Wildlife Management Branch of DPIPWE and their interstate colleagues, the general consensus is that it was most likely a sub-adult Fin Whale, Balaenoptera physalus.  The turquoise colour beneath the surface indicates a Blue or a Fin Whale, but the size and position of the dorsal fin rules out the Blue Whale.  Also the straighter anterior edge of the dorsal fin is unlike most Sei whales. 

Very few sightings of this species have been confirmed in Tasmania. Fin whales are typically found in deep offshore waters. So thanks to everyone involved in helping with the identification!!

Dorsal Fin comparison of a Fin Whale and Bottlenose Dolphins
This photo shows the dorsal fin of the Fin Whale in the middle compared to the dorsal fins of two Bottlenose Dolphins on either side. The straighter anterior edge of the dorsal fin is unlike most Sei Whales.

If you would like to join us on our Coastal Adventure tour, click here to check the availability. We offer great deals for families, plus children under 6 years of age travel free of charge!