Whales are warm blooded mammals, that breath air through
lungs and give birth to live young that are suckled on milk
secreted from the mother’s mammary glands.
dolphins and porpoises, they are collectively known as cetaceans
(order Cetacea), with whales being divided into two
|With around 72 species
worldwide, these include groups such as the River Dolphins, Dolphins, Porpoises,
Beluga, Narwhal, Sperm Whale, Pygmy Sperm Whales and Beaked Whales. The toothed
whales have teeth for feeding, possess only one blowhole opening and have
asymmetrical skulls. They usually feed on fish or squid, with the Toothed Whales
diet including octopus, molluscs and polychaete worms. Some species, such as the
Killer Whale eat other cetaceans, seals and sea otters.
|With around 13 species
worldwide, these include groups such as Gray Whale, Right Whales, Pygmy Right
Whale and the ‘Rorquals’ (a group that includes the Blue, Fin, Minkes, Sei,
Bryde’s and Humpback Whales. They differ from the toothed whales in being
larger, having baleen (a rigid keratin-like material, similar to our
fingernails) instead of teeth, which hangs in vertical strips from the upper
jaw. They feed by filtering seawater to trap food such as planktonic
invertebrates (eg krill), copepods, amphipods and small fish in the baleen
plates attached to their upper jaws. Diet can also include molluscs, polychaete
worms, and other planktonic invertebrates.
The large baleen whales (mysticetes)
obtain their food by filter feeding using comb-like baleen plates that grow from
the roof of the mouth. Prey is captured either by gulping large amounts of
seawater and forcing it across the plates thereby trapping small food items, or
by ‘skimming’ across the surface of the water and then removing trapped food
with the tongue. Items such as krill, (shrimp-like crustaceans), copepods,
amphipods, make up most of the diet of the baleen whales.
Humpback Whales can be up to 16 m in length, with the male being
slightly smaller. The newborn are about 4-5
m in length. A slow swimmer, their dives usually last three to
nine minutes, and up to 45 minutes, followed by four to eight
blows. As baleen whales, Humpback’s do not have any teeth, their diet consist of krill and other crustaceans and
fish which they feed on by filtering them between baleen plates
which hang from the top jaw.
Nearly hunted to extinction, the last whaling station in NSW,
at Byron Bay, closed in 1963 because of the lack of whales to be
found. Humpback whales are now protected throughout Australia.
Identifying the Humpback Whales
As one of the most easily recognisable of the larger whales, the following points can assist in identifying the
- Humpbacks get their name from the way they arch, or hump,
their backs when they begin their dives. They will often roll
forward to dive until only the tail sticks out of the water.
This is called a fluke-up dive.
- Often the first signs is the ‘blow‘’, a cloud of vapour
that it shoots into the air when it breaks the surface to
- They lie on their sides or back, holding one or both
flippers in the air.
- Are known to fluke slap and flipper slap several times in
- They wave their long pectoral fins; do a
leisurely body roll that ends with a splash as their pectoral
fin smacks the surface of the water.
- Humpback Whales can launch themselves out of the water in
a awe-inspiring motion called ‘breaching’.
- A dark grey or black body, with white patches on its
belly, pectoral fins and underside of the tail flukes.
- Long pectoral fins which are almost all white underneath, with
bumps on the leading edges. Unlike any other whale, the
humpback’s flukes and pectoral fins are scalloped or serrated
on the trailing edge.
- A slim head, or rostrum, covered with knobs with a distinctive
rounded protuberance near the tip of the lower jaw.
- Large numbers of barnacles often covering both the rostrum and
- A small dorsal fin.
- As rorquals, they have distinctive throat grooves. They
have up to 35 broad ventral throat grooves, extending at least
to their navels.
What do they sound like?
Humpback Whales are one of the most exuberant of all whale
species, celebrated by mankind for their energetic antics and
haunting whale ‘songs’. The male Humpback Whales often ‘sing’
during migration. The ‘songs’ are a complex sequence of clicks, moans and
high-pitched wails that can last for a few second or up to an hour.
The ‘songs’ seem to change subtly each year and may be a way of
attracting a mate, with different Humpback populations singing
their own unique songs.
Right Whale can grow to about 18 m in length, weighing up
to 100 tonnes. Newborn are about 4.5 to 6 m in length. With a
diet consisting of krill and other crustaceans, they tend to be
a slow lumbering swimmer, often seen waving and flapping
flippers. It is also seen doing headstand for up to two minutes.
In Australia’s early history, the southern right whale
established itself as one of the colony’s main export
industries. It was called the ‘right’ whale because it swam
slowly, floated when killed, and yielded high quantities of oil
and baleen. Because the whales were once plentiful, ships would
stay for a while after bringing convicts to the colony, to hunt
the southern rights.
By the 1840s, the southern right whales population had almost
been wiped out and the whaling industry collapsed. With the ban
on whaling, the populations of southern rights have been
recovering, scientists today, estimate that there are around
5,000 southern right whales in the world. Southern right whales
are protected throughout Australia, and are still listed as a
Identifying the Southern Right Whales
The following points can assist in identifying the Southern
- Southern Rights have a very distinctive ‘V’-shaped blow, a
cloud of vapour blown out when the whale surfaces to breathe.
- A fluke-up dive, rolling forward to dive, until only their
tails stick out of the water.
- A spy hop, raising the head out of the water to look
- Southern Rights lie near the surface of the water, with
one or both of their pectoral fins above the water.
- The female Southern Rights can also be seen suckling their
- Dark skin, with irregular white patches on the throat and
- A round body which tapers to a relatively narrow tail
- A broad tail, with flukes which form a wide triangle with
a notch in the middle.
- Large, broad pectoral fins, which have a rectangular
- A large, narrow head with a highly arched mouth.
- A series of natural growths called callosites on the front
of the rostrum or head. The largest of these callosites is
called the ‘bonnet’. Callosites are also found on the whale’s
chin, on the sides of the head, on the lower lips, above the
eyes, and near the blowholes.
Source: Variety of sources
including the Australian Museum, NSW Parks & Wildlife Service,
QLD Environmental Protection Agency, Parks & Wildlife Tasmania
If there are any factual errors, please