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From whaling to whale watching: A story of recovery

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From whaling to whale watching: A story of recovery

Whale Watching

Whales in Paradise offers intimate encounters with one of the most remarkable creatures of the deep – whales. Today you can witness one of the animal kingdom’s most breathtaking spectacles from our very own Mahi Mahi vessel: 40,000 migrating humpback whales passing through the Gold Coast bay twice each year following an ancient route known as the Humpback Highway. But this hasn’t always been the case in our recent history due to the tragic workings of the whaling industry.

Australia’s First Nations Peoples did not hunt whales. Whaling in Australia began in the late 1700s using harpoons from small boats. The whales were towed behind the boats back to whaling stations on shore. Whale products were used for a number of things. The blubber was melted to be used as oil for lamp fuel, candles and lubricants and as a base for perfumes and soaps. Baleen (whalebone) was used for corsets, umbrellas and whips.

 

Whaling and exporting whale products become one of Australia’s first primary industries. Numerous coastal whaling stations were established around Australia in the late 1820s to 1830s. Devastatingly, whale species became so over-exploited they came very near to extinction. This over-exploitation eventually led to the demise of the whaling industry in Australia, and when whale numbers dropped in the 1900s, laws were finally passed to protect these magnificent marine mammals.

 

Since then, Australia has become a world leader in the protection and conservation of whales. Our waters are home to approximately 45 species of whales and dolphins and the protection of these species is a priority for our government. The Australian Whale Sanctuary, established in 1999, makes sure all whales are protected in our waters. Within the sanctuary, it is illegal to kill, injure or interfere with whales, with severe penalties applying to anyone who tries to do so.

 

Thanks to these vital and necessary laws, whale populations are flourishing. Luckily for us, Australia has one of the strongest recovering populations of whales off our coasts. Join us at Whales In Paradise to marvel at the dramatic aerial displays of humpback whales, or feel the warm and fuzzies watching mothers tenderly care for their calves. And remember to keep your camera ready because whales aren’t the only animals that curiously approach the vessel. Charming dolphins, big green sea turtles and migratory seabirds may try to steal the show.

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The magic of migration: From Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef (and back again)

By Whale Watching No Comments

The magic of migration: From Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef (and back again)

Whale Watching

Every year between April and November, Australia’s eastern coastline becomes the Humpback Highway. Our coastline comes alive with the astoundingly beautiful acrobatic displays of humpback whales. After a Summer of feeding on krill in Antarctic waters, these charming mammals migrate north to subtropical waters where they mate and give birth. During this annual migration journey, a journey of up to 10,000 kilometres, humpbacks put on a parade for all our eastern coastal towns. Book a whale watching tour with Whales In Paradise and sit back and enjoy the show!

The precise timing of the migration period can vary from year to year depending on the water temperature, sea ice, prey abundance, predation risk and the location of their feeding ground. The vast majority of humpbacks in Australian water migrate north from June to August, and back towards the Southern Ocean from September to November. Groups of young males typically lead the migration, while pregnant females and calves hold up the rear. Adult breeding whales make up the majority of migration in the middle stages.

 

At a maximum length of 16 metres, the humpback is not the largest of whales found in our waters, but it is arguably the most iconic. Covering 10,000 kilometres annually, humpbacks have the longest migratory pattern of any mammal in history. In the same way us humans will jump in our cars and drive considerable distances for our favourite take-away or restaurant, part of the reason whales embark on these huge journeys is for food. Being as enormous as they are, whales prioritise and spend a lot of time eating food. Their most treasured preference? Krill.

 

Krill are small prawn-like creatures that  grow up to about 4 centimetres long. Krill are found in oceans worldwide, but the smorgasbord of krill in Antarctic waters during summer is simply irresistible to Humpback whales, who can eat up to 1800 kilograms of krill each day. Pink and opaque, Antarctic krill numbers are estimated to range from 125 million tons to 6 billion tons. During summer, these krill congregate in swarms so dense and widespread they can be seen from space! So now we know why humpbacks love the Antarctic, but why do they travel all the way to warm Queensland waters during winter?

 

The answer? Motherly love. Humpbacks not only have big appetites, but they also have big hearts. The whales leave their krill-rich feeding grounds to migrate to the warmer waters of the Great Barrier Reef to mate and give birth to their young ones. Baby humpback whales, called calves, don’t have enough body fat when they’re born to be able to survive in the cold Antarctic waters. But once Spring arrives in Australia, humpbacks and their calves begin the long trip home. Join us at Whales in Paradise to bear witness to this magical journey… And don’t forget your cameras!

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Day in the life of a whale: Exploring whale behaviours

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Day in the life of a whale: Exploring whale behaviours

Whale Watching

Whales are known to be quite active in the water and display an array of amazing surfacing behaviours. Scientists are still debating on the reasons for some of these remarkable behaviours, but some theories have more evidence than others. Many scientists believe that certain behaviours help the whales determine their position in relation to land, or allow them to communicate with other whales. Fin slapping is thought to be a warning of danger nearby. And a theory as to why whales launch themselves out of the water and fall back with a giant splash – to rid themselves of skin parasites! But who knows, they may just be having some fun.

Breaching

For us humans, the most spectacular of all the whale behaviours is breaching. Breaching is a form of surfacing behaviour whereby most or all of the whale’s body leaves the water in a dramatic jump. Many species of whale do this, but some, such as the humpbacks we often see on Whales In Paradise, seem to breach more frequently. While no one knows why they do this for sure, it could be to communicate, to attract other whales, or to warn off other males.

Blowing

Like humans, whales are mammals. This means they have to breathe. However, as marine animals, whales are conscious breathers and have to actively decide when to breathe. This is unlike us, because we breathe automatically and effortlessly. Whales breathe through the blowholes located on the tops of their heads, and cannot breathe through their mouths. The friendly humpback whales we often see on our whale watch tours have two blowholes in which they exhale with huge force!

Lobtailing (tail slapping) and fin slapping

Lobtailing involves the whale lifting its tail flukes out of the water before slapping them onto the water’s surface, generating a loud sound. To do this, the whale usually hangs vertically in the water with just its tail above the surface. It then uses the muscles in its tail to slap the water. This may be to communicate with nearby whales or as some kind of defence mechanism. Likewise, whales may also slap their flippers hard against the water. This could be a sign of aggression in attempts to scare fish.

Spyhopping

When a whale wishes to see something above the water’s surface, it can lift its head and part of its chest vertically out of the water. Doing so means their eyes are just above the water line. This is called spyhopping. Get it – “spy” and “hopping” (haha!). Whales are known to be naturally curious creatures. Who knows… Maybe they like to watch us just as much as we like to watch them.

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Protecting whales to protect the planet: How whale poop helps feed the ocean

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Protecting whales to protect the planet: How whale poop helps feed the ocean

Whale Watching

Whales have a reputation (and rightfully so) for being the largest and most intelligent creatures in the ocean. Now, marine biologists have discovered they also capture tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making them an important nature-based solution to reducing carbon emissions. Not only does nutrient-rich whale poop help reverse the effects of climate change – it’s an exceptional example that nothing in the natural world happens in isolation.

Whales accumulate carbon in their bodies during their long lives, some of which last 200 years. When they die and sink to the ocean floor, they take this carbon with them. A study published by the International Monetary Fund states that a tree during the same period will only contribute to 3 per cent of the carbon absorption of a whale. So when it comes to saving the planet, one whale is worth thousands of trees.

 

Not only this, but whale poop has a multiplier effect on phytoplankton. This is because whale poop contains iron and nitrogen, elements that phytoplankton need to grow. Fascinatingly, the concentration of iron in whale poop is about 10 million times higher than average seawater concentrations. So whale poop is effectively a fertiliser that increases phytoplankton growth. This is important because phytoplankton contributes to at least 50 per cent of all the oxygen in our atmosphere! AND they capture about 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is four Amazon forests’ worth!

 

So, the more whales, the more whale poop, the more phytoplankton, the more oxygen! Not only do we have whales to thank for maintaining a stable food chain and accumulating carbon in their bodies, we also have to thank them for consuming and digesting millions of phytoplankton per day, enhancing atmospheric carbon dioxide removal and creating a more productive ecosystem. Be sure to thank them next time you’re whale watching with Whales in Paradise.

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