More than 40 humpback whales and 10 dwarf minke whales were counted from the top of Boyd’s Tower this week as whale spotting resumes there for the first time since the 1930s.
It’s hoped to be just the tip of the iceberg as the southern migration begins to arrive on the south coast.
Braving the elements, PhD student Kylie Owen and her international team are recording and communicating whale positions for the research vessel Blackfish.
The Surface and Underwater Research on Feeding Australian Humpback Whales (SURFAH) team is primed to gather as much data as they can about the feeding behaviour of the whales.
While there’s no shortage of interactions so far, the researchers are particularly aiming to document whales feeding.
Whale watchers have not only been thrilled with the seemingly playful whales and prolific birdlife but have been able to see and learn about SURFAH’s work.
SURFAR shore and sea-based teams have extensive equipment and technology.
The vessel’s kit includes a suction capped DTAGs with GPS that record the whales’ underwater movements in 3D and plot their position each time they surface.
After a couple of hours the tags time out and release from the whale to be picked up by the Blackfish.
One tag was deployed on a playful sub-adult which, as well as appearing to feed at depth, interacted with a pod of common dolphins and also with professor Joe Warren’s 3D echo sounder as it was towed behind the boat.
Crew also use cameras above and below the water during encounters.
The researchers report that there’s so much krill in the water at the moment that it appears as a mass on a boat’s echo sounder.
Activity should only improve as the warmer northern current moves inshore over the weekend and lifts the water temperature from 14 to up to 18 degrees Celsius.
Whale watching vessel Cat Balou is supporting the researchers by radioing on their own sightings and even passing a hot cuppa over to the boat on Monday when the crew was intermittently rained upon.
About 30 people braved the rain on Monday to celebrate World Parks Day with National Parks and Wildlife Services at the base of Boyd’s Tower.
Whales were elusive close to shore but there were many sightings of seals, dolphins and bird life.