Variety of whales visit NSW Far South Coast, intriguing marine experts, citizen scientists

News

Whale watching on the NSW Far South Coast is in full swing and citizen scientists are being encouraged to report sightings of some of the more reclusive species, such as the Bryde’s whale.

August coincides with the start of the annual ‘humpback highway’ migration period, with plenty of them already making a splash off the coast of towns such as Merimbula, Bermagui, and Eden.

But it is the unexpected number of Bryde’s whales feeding off the coast of Merimbula and Bermagui that have caught local tourism operators off guard.

“Every day for the past month we’ve had at least four to five sightings on most trips,” Sapphire Coastal Adventures owner Simon Millar said.

“We always see them every year but we’ve never seen so many of them as we have this year.”

“They’ve hung around for a really prolonged period of time as well.”

The Bryde’s whale, pronounced ‘broo-dess’, is considered by whale watching operators to be less social than the humpback, making daily encounters, usually during a feeding frenzy, all the more special.

Sightings of southern right whales, including a “salt and peppery” calf earlier this month, have also been considered valuable in learning more about the species population post-whaling.

But a recent sighting of curious dwarf minke mugging a cruise line off the coast of Eden has also been considered a first.

“Although dwarf minkes are very inquisitive animals, in our experience they’ve been fairly shy when it comes to coming across to the boat,” said Lana Wills, co-owner at Cat Balou Cruises.

“This particular encounter was so wonderful because this juvenile dwarf minke swam around the boat for over 20 minutes.

“We’ve not had that experience before.”

Citizen scientists at the ready
Humpback, dwarf minke, and southern right whales are making their return journey south to Antarctica, but the migration patterns of the Bryde’s whale are not as well known.

Wildlife scientist Vanessa Pirotta said, although the recent encounters with both Bryde’s and dwarf minke whales on the far south coast were not unusual, the more citizen scientists in the field documenting the population, movement and behaviour of whales, the better.

“Some of the behaviours that we’re documenting for the first time in Australian waters might be indicative of behaviours that were here previous to when their population was nearly hunted to extinction,” Dr Pirotta said.

“So we might be seeing re-emerging behaviours or new behaviours documented simply because our communications are better thanks to social media.”

Dr Pirotta said members of the public who spotted whales were encouraged to take a photo or video and put it on social media, or report their sighting to a whale watching operator who might be able to relay the information to a scientist.

At the same time, the public is being reminded to always keep a safe distance from the whales.

“Whales and dolphins are protected in Australian waters, which means you must adhere to specific rules when watching whales on a boat and also flying drones around these animals,” she said.