Whale watching season 2015 has begun from the brand new marina at Augusta, and we’re receiving daily reports of humpback sightings. Just today, local tour operators Naturaliste Charters (pictured) told us that “Yesterday and today’s whales were AWESOME!! Easily 20 or more humpbacks, wherever you look, they are there! …Extremely close interactions for extended periods of time.”
Your Margaret River Region’s six month whale watching season is essentially divided into two halves – from June to August you can see them at Augusta, and then from September to December they pass through Geographe Bay.
There’s heaps to learn about these beautiful creatures, so I asked local Naturaliste Volunteers, Fiona and Dave, to enlighten me with some essential facts.
1. Whale watching in Your Margaret River Region is pretty special…
… for a few reasons. Firstly, our six month whale watching season is one of the world’s longest, and with an estimated 35,000 whales passing by each year, we are visited by twice as many as the east coast of Australia.
The other extraordinary thing is the combination of whale species attracted to our coastline – it’s extremely unusual to see humpback and southern right whales interacting, as they do at Augusta, and then at Geographe Bay there have been a number of blue whales spotted over recent years (pictured). Blue whales are the largest living creature ever to have lived on this planet – that fact alone makes you very privileged to see one.
2. Mothers and calves
In Geographe Bay you will often see a large number of mothers and calves. Geographe Bay is a good area for them to rest on their migration south to the Antarctic. It is always great to see mothers and calves, and the good news is that over the last 12 years the numbers of humpback whales migrating through WA’s waters have increased approx. three-fold, so we now have over 30,000 humpback whales (which represents around 40% of the total world population) migrating up and down our coastline.
3. Whales have fingerprints!
Individual humpback whales can be distinguished by the varying patterns and markings on the underside of their tail, which is like a fingerprint. Take a look at the difference between the two ‘fingerprints’ above!
4. It’s all about breaching
If you are lucky enough to see a whale breach, it is often the most exciting part of a whale watching tour. It is a powerful acrobatic display where the humpback whales uses its tail to launch itself out of the water. With just a few pumps of its tail, the humpback can propel its entire body into the air, landing back onto the surface with a resounding splash. Breaches in the distance are often the first signs of humpbacks in the area and help make it easier to locate the whales!
5. Head lunges
The whale lunges towards its opponent whilst expelling water that it used to “puff up” its throat area to make itself appear bigger. This is usually a behaviour between males and can often be seen when several males are pursuing one female.
6. Spy hopping
A humpback whale slowly rises vertically towards the surface, bringing its head out of the water to below its eyes. This allows the whale to get a better look at activity going on above the surface. It can be a case of “who is watching who”!
7. Tail diving
When preparing for a deep dive, humpback whales arch their back and raise their tail flukes above the water. Along with breaching, seeing a tail dive is always a favourite with whale watchers.
8. Tail slapping
Tail slapping (also known as a tail lobbing) consists of a whale raising its tail high out of the water and then slamming its flukes down forcefully on the surface of the water. Along with breaching, this is another indication of whales in the area, and another sign that is looked for when locating whales.
9. What is it like on a whale watching tour?
We would most certainly recommend a whale cruise as the best way of seeing humpback and blue whales – you never know what you will see – every trip is different – in fact for this reason we would recommend going on more than one trip, if possible!
(Image: a dolphin and a whale cross paths)
More about whale watching tours
About Dave & Fiona, Naturaliste Volunteers
We have been volunteers here in WA for the last thirteen years, involved with whales, dolphins and turtles viewing and research, and have raised almost $100,000 for research for the Dolphin Discovery Centre in Bunbury with the sale of our photo images. In 1999 we came to Australia from the UK to travel for a few years, but we loved WA and stayed!!
When we join whale watching cruises we log the numbers we see, their behaviour and GPS locations. We also go “one step further” and help with tail identification. We take photos of the underneath of the tail and pass these images along with the other data onto various research organisations in Australia, to help build the bigger picture of whale activity and numbers. We are very fortunate to have tour operators who operate out of the region that welcome us aboard to collect this information.