Whales belong to a group of marine animals known as cetaceans. There are 85 known species of cetaceans in the world and they are broken up into 2 groups:
Baleen whales (Mysticetes) – there are 13 known species of baleen whales, including the humpback and southern right whale both of which you are likely to cross paths with in Port Stephens from May-Nov. Instead of teeth they have rows of fibrous bristle-like baleen plates which they use to strain mouthfuls of water for fish, plankton & krill.
Toothed whales (Odontocetes) - there are 72 known species of toothed whales and like their name suggests, they have teeth as oppose to baleen plates. Toothed whales feed on squid, fish, and sometimes marine mammals.
All whale species have streamlined, smooth-surfaced bodies, no external ears, flippers like forelimbs for steering and maneuvering, very few hairs, and a layer of insulating blubber. These characteristics make them ideally suited to their marine environment.
Port Stephens enjoys a fantastic whale watching season from May to November every year. On a Port Stephens whale watch cruise you may come across one or more of the following types of whales – Humpback, Melon Headed, Brydes, Southern Right, Pilot, False Killer and the Orca whale. But more often than not it is the humpback whale that we are lucky enough to meet in Port Stephens.
Approximately 6,500 of the world’s humpback whale population pass the Port Stephens coast line on their 12,000km migration every year. The humpback whale undertakes a northern migration from May to August, travelling from its feeding grounds in Antarctica to the warmer tropical waters of the Pacific. They then make the return journey south from August to November. This is the longest documented migration of any mammal on earth and the reason for the journey is to breed. Despite its enormous size at birth, a newborn whale (calf) is born without a protective blubber layer so if it were born in the near-freezing temperatures of the Antarctic waters, its chances of survival would be slim. So the whales head north to the warmer climate to give birth to their young.Interesting Humpback facts:
- Length: Adults – 14m to 18m
- Calves – 4m to 5m at birth
- Weight: Adults – up to 50 tonnes
- Calves – 2 tonnes at birth
- Cruising speed: 7km/hr
- Protected since 1965
- You can distinguish the humpback whale from other whale species by its small dorsal fin that you see sticking out of the water when the whale arches its back to dive and this is how the humpback got its name.
- Humpbacks have the most diverse feeding techniques of all Baleen Whales - they scream when hunting fish to scare and confuse them
- Individual humpbacks can be identified by markings under their tail and flippers
- The spread of its jaw is over 4 metres
- Sings the longest, most complex songs in the animal kingdom
The humpback whale is a favourite
with whale watchers in Port Stephens
due to its spectacular display of
acrobatic tricks. It is not uncommon
to see a breach, where the whale
leaps right out of the water, rolls
in the air with its huge fins outstretched
like wings and then crashes back
into the water. Here are some more
whale tricks you may be lucky enough
Tail slap – when the whale’s tail comes right out of the water and slaps the surface.
Pectoral slap – when the pectoral fin comes right out of the water and makes a big slapping noise as it breaks the surface.
Spy hop – the whale’s head bobs up out of the water
Body roll – this is a full 360 degree spin where you get a glimpse of the whale’s underbelly.
The Orrca website has great info on Whale, Dolphin and Seal Rescue & Research.
Visit www.orrca.org.au for more info.
Here is an informative discussion by the Small Working Group on the Future of the International Whaling Commission.
whale watching (191 KB)