Sunday, 10 August 2014

Rare Southern Right Whales visit NSW North Coast

On Wednesday July 30 Russell Jago and I were carrying out a survey for Coastal Emus in the Wooli-Minnie Water area.  At 1240 hrs we observed a whale floating on the surface of the ocean off Illaroo Beach, Yuraygir National Park at Minnie Water.  Minnie Water is east of Grafton and north of Coffs Harbour.  A first glance I thought that it was a Humpback Whale, a species that has increased in numbers in recent years with the population now recovering from the impacts of whaling up until the middle of the 20th Century.  Then I noticed that the back was long and flat and that there was no dorsal fin.  These characters clearly rued out Humpback Whale but are defining characters of the Southern Right Whale.  There are also special skin thickenings called callosities which are sites where lice and barnacles attach to the head area. To my surprise we saw a second adult and both adults partly emerged from the water and appeared to be mating.  A little later the female was floating serenely with a calf at her side.  What a wonderful sight.  This was my first ever sighting of the species having previously seen many Humpback Whales, a Minke Whale and assisted in the rescue of a Melon-headed Whale.  I have also seen a dead Pilot Whale washed up on the beach and have viewed Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphins, Common Bottle-nosed Dolphins and Common Dolphins.
 
 
Adult Southern Right Whale blowing
 
 
This was a rare sighting as, although the species has been recorded as far north as southern Queensland, it usually gives birth in Australia's southern coastal waters.  A female and calf were seen at Yamba a few years ago and a new born calf was observed at Valla on the NSW Mid-north Coast in August 2011. The current estimate of the population of the Southern Right Whale is about 12,000 compared to over 100,000 before whaling commenced. 
 
 
 
Head of adult Southern Right Whale


 
There are three species of Right Whales, the North Atlantic Right Whale Eubalaena glacialis and the North Pacific Right Whale Eubalaena japonica of the northern hemisphere, and the Southern Right Whale Eubalaena australis of the southern Hemisphere.  The Southern Right Whale  was originally considered a subspecies of the northern hemisphere species but has now been given full species status. 
 
 
 
Adult Right Whales mating
 
They were so named as they were the 'right' whales to hunt as they have a docile nature, tend to stay close to the coast, and their high blubber content made them float when killed.  
 
 
Adult and calf Right Whales
 
In a world where so many species are declining it is very refreshing to see a species that is bouncing back, even if it is happening very slowly. 
 
 
 
 


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