Friday, May 21, 2010

Whale spotting at Rainbow Beach

Humpack whale fluke

Why do whales pass by Rainbow Beach from June to October?
According to http://www.abc.net.au/oceans/whale/spot.htm Each year most of the large whales in the southern oceans follow a general migration pattern. Summer is spent in the cold waters of Antarctica, where they feed on enormous quantities of the prawn-like krill. In Autumn, as the temperature falls and ice begins to form on the sea surface, the whales migrate northward to more temperate waters to give birth and breed before returning to Antarctic waters at the end of Spring.

Consequently, large whales are most likely to be seen in South East Queensland waters between June and October.  From about May to August and later, humpback whales migrate north along the east and west coasts of Australia to breeding areas off Queensland, Western Australia and possibly waters further north. From September to December they return to feeding areas in the Antarctic.
Sometimes humpback whales can even be seen from April to November depending on the season. 
Image from
http://www.abc.net.au/oceans/whale/spot.htm

From the high sand dunes along Rainbow Beach and from Carlo Sand Blow you can be lucky to see passing whales that have come into the bay for a rest on their long journey.  Particularly on their return journey, we often see a mother and her new baby calf playing and resting in the shallow waters along the beach.

The headland at Double Island Point is the best vantage point, as the whales pass by quite close to the shore.  Allow yourself plenty of time to sit and watch and remember some binocculars!

Which species of whales migrate past Rainbow Beach?

Humpback whales.  Check out this fact sheet which has a good illustration on the features to look for in identifying Humpack whales Humpack Whales of Eastern Australia.  The name humpback whale describes the motion the whale makes as it arches its back out of the water in preparation for a dive.  They have a stocky body with obvious humps and black upper parts. The head and lower jaw are covered with small, round bumps on the front of the head called knobs or tubercles,

Most often you will first see their blow - a double spray of water.  You can also spot:
Breaching - leaping out of the water
Pec slapping - the pectoral fins, which are up to one-third of a Humpback whale body length, have rough edges are the largest flippers of any whale.
The tail and flukes - which are lifted high in the air as they dive.
This website has excellent info on whale species found in Australian waters and how to recognise them at sea http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/species/cetaceans/australia/index.html

Amazing photo of a Humpback whale and dolphin playing together from the Smithsonian website.