There’s been some good news for keen whale watchers in Warrnambool this week – the majestic mammals are back in town.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning confirmed there were several southern right whale sightings off Warrnambool.
One particular whale, believed to be a regular female known as Big Lips, was spotted at Logans Beach on Monday. The animal then headed west towards The Cutting before returning to Logans Beach via Lady Bay, and it was spotted again throughout the week.
As we head into a promising season, here are some facts you may or may not know about southern right whales.
1. They don’t eat for up to six months
That’s right, the southern right whales, which usually feed on plankton and crustaceans, generally do not eat for the five or six months over winter and spring they spend breeding, calving and socialising around coastal waters. Instead, they feed and gain weight over summer, which they spend roaming the Southern Ocean.
2. You can tell whales apart by their facial growths
Southern right whales can be identified by their distinctive skin growths, called callosities, which look like barnacles. They grow on top of their heads, chins and lower jaws, and are as unique as human fingerprints. Individual whales revisiting particular areas can be identified by their callosities.
3. They are the only large whales that hang out close to shore
The whales live part-time in cool seas of the southern hemisphere, spending summer feeding in sub-Antarctic waters in the Southern Ocean. During winter and spring they move to warmer water around Australia’s southern coast as well as South America, South Africa and New Zealand.
4. They are so-named because they were the ‘right’ whale to kill
In the 19th century, southern right whales were almost hunted to extinction. In 1935, they received international protection and numbers started to recover. The term ‘right’ was derived from the fact the mammals were ideal for hunting – they were slow-swimming, they floated after they were killed and they provided plenty of oil and whalebone (baleen). Although numbers have slowly recovered, they are still a vulnerable, threatened species.
5. They can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes
If you’re planning to spend some time whale-watching this season, you should be prepared to wait. The southern right whales can spend up to 20 minutes underwater before breaching. They exhale through two nostril-like blowholes which blow a ‘v’ shape spout of water up to to five metres high.
6. They are one of the largest animals in the world
Adults can weigh 80 tonnes (80,000 kilograms) and grow to more than 18 metres long. Southern right whales live for as long as humans, with an estimated life span of 80 years. Only other types of whales are bigger, such as a blue whale and a fin whale.
7. They need their space
There are laws governing how close you can go to southern right whales because it interferes with their ability to move around and care for their young. Boats must stay 200 metres away from whales and jet skis 300 metres away. An exclusion zone around the Logans Beach whale nursery is in place each year from June 1 to October 31 to protect mothers and calves. Evidence shows whales react to the presence of boats, and mothers will move to protect their calves.
8. They have no teeth
Instead, southern right whales have a series of filters in their mouths called baleen plates, which can be more than 2.5 metres long. They swallow large amounts of water and the baleen helps separate their food from the water like a sieve.
9. We don’t know why they love Logans Beach
The area around Logans Beach is the only spot in Victoria where females regularly return to nurse and feed their young every year.
- Information courtesy of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Warrnambool and District Historical Society.