FACTS ABOUT WHALES

During the months of May through to November, thousands of Humpback whales migrate along the Southeast Queensland coastline and some of them travel into Moreton Bay. In fact, nine species of whale have been known to visit the Moreton Bay Marine Park. Humpback whales were almost hunted to extinction in Australasian waters with whaling stations in New Zealand and Australia killing tens of thousands of Humpbacks during their annual migrations from Antarctica. Between 1952 and 1962 Moreton Bay even had its own whaling station at Tangalooma which processed about 600 whales per year. Prior to commercial whaling about 25,000 whales migrated along the east coast of Australia. By the early 1960s it is believed that numbers had declined to as few as 100 individuals. Since then, Humpback

numbers have steadily increased and it is estimated that in 2016 there are around 16,000 whales that migrate past Moreton Bay each year. These days, the biggest threat to whales in the Moreton Bay region is entanglement in fishing nets or shark nets. Nets can cause very nasty wounds and in some cases kill the

whale if it is caught and can’t get to the surface to breathe. Whales and other marine mammals are also vulnerable to boat, barge and ship collisions. As whale numbers and shipping traffic increase this is a growing problem.

  • Like humans, whales are warm blooded, air breathing mammals.

  • The whale most commonly sighted in Moreton Bay is the majestic humpback whale.

  • Whales visit Moreton Bay every winter and spring when migrating between their Antarctic feeding ground and their sub-tropical and tropical breeding grounds.

  • Migratory timing of individual females differs according to their reproductive state, and appears to influence reproductive success. In some populations females do not migrate every year in order to recover from the amount of energy they use in reproduction.

  • Humpbacks may cover may cover up to 8000km in each direction during their seasonal migration.

  • Humpbacks are baleen whales which have baleen plates that hang down from their upper jaw and act as a filter to trap small fish and plankton. They also have massive throat grooves which expand as the whale takes a huge gulp of water and food (a bit like the way a pelican can expand its pouch while feeding). They then close their mouth and push up their tongue, expelling the water out through he baleen which leaves all the food trapped on the inside.

  • Different species of baleen whales have slightly different forms of baleen plates, different ways of feeding and slightly different diets.

  • Baleen is comprised of keratin, which is similar to human finger nails or the outer portion of cow horns

  • In all species of baleen whales, the females are usually slightly larger than the males. The maximum size recorded is 17.4m for a female and 16.2m for a male.

  • Southern Humpbacks usually have a greater degree of white colouration on their ventral (underneath) surface compared to the Northern Hemisphere Humpbacks.

  • Whales become sexually mature at 4-8 years of age.

  • Their gestation period is 11 - 12 months, and their average calving interval is 2.4 years.

  • This low rate of reproduction has implications for the ability of a population to recover.

  • Humpback calves can drink up to 600L of milk per day from their mother.

  • Life expectancy is estimated to be more than 48 years, but this is considered an underestimate given the longevity of baleen whales.

  • Battles between male whales take place during the breeding season. Courtship displays take place below and above the water with fluke slapping, rolling and head butting in dramatic ritualized displays.

  • Humpback whale songs are generally assumed to serve a communication function. The sound is produced in the lower throat area below the blow hole.

  • Humpback whales produce the longest and most complex of all whale songs and the Grey whales are the most silent.

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