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May to October. The first whales are usually seen in mid - late May and can be found until early October. The most reliable time to see a whale is during July and August.
Yes, - and there can be severe penalties for those who don't obey the regulations which control how you interact with the whales to minimise their disturbance. Read more about these regulations on this Web site.
Land based whale watching can have severe impacts on coastal environments, especially at popular vantage points where many people gather each season. Sand dunes are particularly fragile, and heavy foot traffic can easily cause erosion and destroy the homes of coastal birds and animals. Whale watchers should always stick to marked pathways.
Whale watchers can generate direct income for tour operators, but even those who watch from land (for free) may spend money on petrol, food, accommodation and souvenirs. The winter months were traditionally a slow time for the tourism in Encounter Bay, but the return of the whales has made a measurable difference in the economy. Many thousands of whale watchers visit during the season, with one reported instance of nearly 12,000 on one day in the mid 1990s.
Southern Right whales visit Encounter Bay each winter to breed and calve. They are good whales to watch because they come close to shore and can be quite active. If you are lucky, you could see a Humpback whale - small numbers pass by the coast each season. Large numbers of Common and Bottlenose Dolphins live in local waters year round.
The Big Duck Boat Tours offer whale watching tours during the season (subject to whale being in the area). Please contact the South Australian Whale Centre to book your tour on (08) 8551 0750.
There are many places around Australia renowned for whale watching. Popular spots for Southern Rights include the Head of Bight (SA) and Warrnambool (VIC); Humpbacks are seen in Hervey Bay(QLD), Eden (NSW), Perth and Albany (WA); Minkes are seen in the Whitsundays (QLD).How many species of whale are found in SA?
There are over 80 whale species worldwide, and 29 have been recorded in SA waters, including well-known species such as the Blue, Humpback, Sperm and Orca.
Adult Southern Right whales eat small marine crustaceans called Krill and Copepods, which live in huge numbers in the whales' summer feeding grounds. A single adult whale can eat over 2000kg of krill everyday.
Southern Right Whales are one of the largest whales – up to 18 metres long with a weight of as much as 80 tonnes.
To mate and give birth to their young (called calves). Southern Rights calve only once every 3 years. Only one calf is born at a time and the gestation period is 11 months.
When first born, a Southern Right calf is 4 – 5 metres long and weighs 1 tonne. It can double its weight in its first week of life!
Like other mammals, a whale calf drinks milk which is 40% fat. In a single day, a mother can produce up to 600L of milk, and a calf will drink about 125L.
Southern Right whale are very slow – which is why they were popular whales to hunt. They rarely reach a speed of 10km/h.
Southern Rights were once the most common whales around southern Australia. No one knows for sure how many there were before whaling began, but most estimates are around 100 000. They were hunted nearly to extinction in the 19th century and it is thought that there are now only about 7000 Southern Rights left in the entire southern hemisphere.
Yes. In Australia, all whales and dolphins are protected. It is illegal to kill or harm them in any way. It is also illegal to import whale products from overseas and to export these products out of Australia. One of the first whales protected was the Southern Right – it was granted international protection in 1935.
Yes. In some countries, such as Japan and Norway, commercial whaling is not illegal, and whales such as the Minke, Sperm and Bryde's are still hunted. The effect of this exploitation on their populations is largely unknown.
It is difficult to quantify precise numbers, as most whale watchers are independent travellers who view the whales from land. One estimate suggests that during a 'good' season (with lots of sightings), roughly 400,000 whale watchers will visit the region, invest $9million into the economy. As well as spending directly on whale tours, these tourists will also contribute indirectly to the economy through their purchases of petrol, food, accommodation, souvenirs etc.
The SA Whale Centre services thousands of enquiries about whale watching. From June to September, the Centre has an average of 20,000 people visit its Whale Info Booth, and another 8,000 call Telstra Country Wide's Whale Info Hotline (1900 931 223).
Land based whale watching is managed through on-site works such as fencing and whale watching platforms in select sites along Encounter Bay. Water based whale watching is managed through licenses and regulations, as set by the National Parks & Wildlife Act SA. All boat & aircraft operators, which includes tour operators and recreational operators, must abide by the set regulations, which limit the distance of approach and maneuvering near whales.
See the 'Regulations' page accessed through the 'Whale Watching' page.
Environmental impacts include damage to sand dune systems from pedestrians who do not keep to the set paths. Such people can also disturb sensitive and endangered coastal wildlife.
Social impacts include overcrowding of parking areas and main whale watching routes, some litter and the potential invasion of private property.
Cetacean is the scientific name, specifically the 'Order', given to whales and dolphins.
As mammals, whales do have hair but, it would be more accurate to say they have 'facial bristles'. These bristles are found on the heads of young whales and some adult baleen whales, usually around the 'chin' area. There may only be a few of these bristles at a time but they are there, and are thought to serve a sensory purpose.
Whales and humans sleep very differently. For humans, deep sleep means a reduction in muscle activity, blood pressure and consciousness, a drop in breathing rate and the closing of the eyes. For whales however, deep sleep generally doesn't occur. Whales are more likely to doze and remain semi-conscious while resting at the water's surface. They may close their eyes and their breathing rate becomes lower than usual, but they must still consciously take each breath (unlike land mammals, which can breathe without having to think about taking each breath). There is evidence though, that some species such as the Sperm whale can sleep soundly at the surface for hours at a time.
Different kinds of whales, dolphins and porpoises have different mating habits. For example, the male humpback whale uses song to advertise his perceived superiority, and often uses brute strength to battle against other males in competition. Right whales use their sperm to compete – the strongest sperm will survive. Taking a peaceful approach to the mating game, male right whales have often been seen helping each other by detaining the female to make mating easier.
Female cetaceans also have their own mating habits. Their habits revolve more around making the surrounding males aware of their sexual status. This can be done in a number of ways, such as the release of hormonal secretions in their urine and subtle behavioural changes/cues that are obvious to potential mates.
Swim speeds differ between cetaceans, according to their body size and design. Larger cetaceans are slower than the more smaller species that can speed through the water more easily, with less resistance. Larger whales such as the Right whale, Humpback, and Blue whale can only move relatively slowly, with the Right whale moving at speeds of around 4 – 7 km/h, the Humpback 5 – 10 km/h and the Blue whale 5 – 14 km/h. Smaller cetaceans such as the Killer whale (Orca) can travel at speeds of up to 55 km/h. Even smaller than the Killer whale is the Common dolphin, which can travel at speeds of 64 km/h.
The actions of human beings impact greatly on the lives of cetaceans. Overfishing in certain areas means that fish are being taken at a faster rate than they can reproduce to maintain their numbers. This creates a significant problem for cetaceans, as a decrease in fish numbers means a decrease in their food levels. As competition increases between commercial fishing companies, the problem becomes more severe and it is the cetaceans that suffer.
An increase in human activities that involve the sea is also having a significant impact on the lives of cetaceans. The ocean is already a fairly loud place when the low frequency sounds of mammals, invertebrates and fish combine with natural noises such as volcanic eruptions, storms and heavy rains. When further combined with the actions of humans such as coastal development, dredging, heavy shipping and container ships, low flying aeroplanes, seismic testing for oil and gas, the use of speed boats, jetskis and many others, the noise pollution that cetaceans have to endure is remarkable. As they rely on the use of sound for communication, finding their way around, locating food sources and evading predators, noise pollution is detrimental to the well being of cetaceans as a whole.
Sea traffic can have another impact on the lives of cetaceans in the form of collisions. Collisions between whales and boats have occurred in the past and usually happen either by accident or as a result of the whale perceiving a threat and retaliating by ramming the boat. Collisions with larger ships can not only damage the ship but can also cause significant injury to a whale. Smaller, faster boats that can change course quickly also pose a problem, as it is near impossible for whale to avoid them when they are travelling at a great speed. This not only damages the boat and harms the whale but can also cause significant injury to the people involved.
Pollution is a major threat to all ocean life, including cetaceans. Dolphins and whales can become entangled in discarded fishing gear, buoys, and nets. "Ghost nets" are discarded or dislodged drift nets that can be several kilometres long, and float through the ocean killing thousands of marine animals in their path, who become entangled in these 'walls of death.' Chemical pollutants can also create a poisonous cocktail, and toothed whales face the greatest risk. Their prey (e.g. fish, sea lions) is higher up the food chain, and the accumulation of toxins along the way can lead to extremely high levels of PCBs and other chemicals in the blubber of cetaceans. Sadly, these chemicals are often passed on through the mothers' milk to young whales and dolphins, with a deadly result.