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Dating Australian Whales and Dolphins
September 2006 - Humpback Whales


Humpback whales migrate from the Antarctic to Queensland waters for breeding and feeding every year during June to November. As these magnificent humpback whales can measure up to 19 m for adults, it is an unforgettable experience when it comes over to the boat, peep at you and flap its large flipper slowly right in front of you. If you want to meet these gentle giants at sea, season is a factor that you shouldn’t overlook.

Along the sunshine coast of Queensland, there are quite a number of whale watching sites you can choose from. Among these sites, Hervey Bay is renowned as the Whale-watching Capital in which you’ll find the marina packed with a handful of well-decorated whale watching catamarans.

Hervey Bay – the Whale-watching Capital
Hervey Bay is a quiet and peaceful small town situated north to Brisbane. Known as the whale-watching capital, there are a number of whale-watching operators you can choose from and the duration of tours range from 3 hours to a whole day. You may even join some whale-watching packages with accommodation provided. Cetacean species you may encounter include: Humpback Whale, Bottlenose Dolphin, Australian Humpback Dolphin, etc. I was glad to have met the close relative of the pink dolphins of Hong Kong there.
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As a dolphin fans, whale and dolphin souvenirs must be something you keep looking for. A few souvenir shops can be found at the marina. If you can spare the time to walk around the town, you can take a pleasant walk along a footpath (about 3 hours) to Torquay in the town centre, and watch birds and take photos on the way. There are a couple of souvenir shops with a variety of marine life souvenirs. If you have time, you may even go for a one-day tour to the world’s largest sand island - the Fraser Island.
Transportation: by domestic flight, train, rented car or coach
(Website: http://www.herveybaywhalewatch.com.au/)

Morten Bay – wild dolphin resort
If you want a convenient whale-watching site and get up close and personal with wild bottlenose dolphins, Morten Island is a place you shouldn’t miss. Morten Island is the third largest sand island in Australia. It is situated right out of Brisbane, with roughly 1.5 hours’ travel from Brisbane Airport or the central business district.
At Morten Bay, you’ll find the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort with a Marine Education Centre set up right next to the jetty. There, you can find specimens of whales, dolphins and other marine animals. If you stay in the resort, you can register at the Marine Education Centre to feed wild dolphins. Everyday after sunset, eight to ten dolphins will come to Morten Bay and interact with people. Feeding wild dolphins is an offence unless a permit is obtained, under which the activity should be supervised by marine biologists for the wellbeing of dolphins. Uncontrolled feeding will jeopardise the dolphins' ability to find food for themselves, and some people might feed the dolphins with inappropriate things.
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Whale-watching tours are available daily at the resort during the whale migrating season. At the same time, their marine eco-cruise will travel to the shallow waters to look for dugongs, dolphins, turtles and rays.
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Transportation: Resort coach can be arranged to pick up visitors at the airport or the central business district to get to the Tangalooma Jetty. Then it will take the resort catamaran roughly 60-75 minutes to get to Morten Island.
Website: http://www.tangalooma.com/info/home/

May 2017 – Australian Snubfin Dolphins & Australian Humpback Dolphin

snubfin dolphin Australian Humpback Dolphin
It was a pleasant experience observing dolphins in their natural habitat with some Australian researchers and marine biologists. The places visited included Roebuck Bay in Western Australia and Moreton Bay in Queensland. The sightings at both places were spectacular, with many photos taken to record different natural behaviours of the Australian dolphins and other marine wildlife.

Roebuck Bay
Roebuck Bay is a place rich in marine wildlife. This bay area is a nursery ground for fish and hence other marine animals. Everyday, a large volume of water move in and out of the bay area via the deep channel due to tidal movement. The currents stir up the silt and nutrients. Mangroves in the estuary also contribute to the marine ecosystem. Here, you may encounter the rare Australian Snubfin Dolphins, Australian Humpback Dolphins, Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins, Dugongs, Flat-backed Turtles, sea snakes, Black-tip Reef Shark on an ecocruise. According to the marine biologists, every year from mid-June to October, some 35,000 Humpback Whales migrate from the Antarctic and pass by Broome. The mother and calf will appear early in the season, while the males will appear later. 

Guided by marine biologists, we ventured out to the bay area for 6 days in a week. The main purpose was to observe and photograph the Snubfin Dolphins. Of the 2,000-3,000 Snubfin Dolphins in Australian waters, about 150-160 individuals are identified by scientists in the bay area. We were lucky enough to see the Snubfin Dolphins everyday. While the Snubfin Dolphins are usually shy of boats, when they are in the mood to do interesting things and decide to check out the boat, the encounters will stun the most experienced whale watchers. I have seen them feeding, milling and socializing within the week.

snubfin dolphin snubfin dolphin

snubfin dolphin snubfin dolphin mating

Something very interesting about their feeding behaviour is that, they spit water to disorient the fish to make them become an easy prey. Occasionally, they spit water to the air. I was lucky enough to catch this very special moments.

snubfin dolphin spitting

Australian Humpback Dolphin and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin

Australian Humpback Dolphin

Apart from whale and dolphin watching, Broome lies along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Migratory Route of birds. Many migratory birds stopped by for food in the mangrove area at the estuary. According to the local naturalist, the best season is March and April. Yet, many resident species can be found throughout the year.

Species: Australian Snubfin Dolphin, Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin, Australian Humpback Dolphin, Humpback Whale (mid-June to October), Dugongs, Flat Back Turtle, a variety of birds, etc.

Salt Water Crocodile and Dugong

salt water crocodile Dugong

Black-tipped Reef Shark and Flat-backed Turtle

Flat backed Turtle

Agile Wallaby


Morning ecocruise: Broome Whale Watching
Afternoon ecocruise: Absolute Ocean Charter
Bird watching: Broome Bird Observatory, Kimberley Bird Watching

Moreton Bay
This is a one-week programme organized by Dolphin Research Australia to study the population, the behaviour and the threats faced by the Australian Humpback Dolphins (Sousa sahulensis, split from the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins since 2014) and the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins in Moreton Bay. The programme is based at the Moreton Bay Research Station of the University of Queensland. Special permit was granted to Dr. Elizabeth Hawkins of Dolphin Research Australia to study the dolphins of Moreton Bay.

Australian Humpback Dolphin and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin

Australian Humpback Dolphin

Currently, there are about 140 Australian Humpback Dolphins and 500 Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins (identified individuals) in the bay. The study is of particular importance to the Australian Humpback Dolphins as there were not much studies conducted on them in the past. As this species mainly resides in coastal area, human impacts are of particular concern given such a small population. Hence, one of the purposes of the study is to look at the population and see if it is sustainable in the long run and what can be done before it is too late.

During the week, we managed to go out to conduct survey for 6 times and covered all the line-transect sections in the bay. We conducted some off-effort searches on the dolphins as well, as data on the behaviour of dolphins are very much needed to have a better understanding about them in order to identify key habitats for conservation purposes.

Being a researcher is by no means easy. Our research vessel Pelagia is only 5.3 metres long. When the wind picks up, it is particularly difficult to take photo id of the dorsal fin while trying to keep oneself balance with a big camera on hand, not to mention one has to keep holding on to the rope most of the time while the boat was moving. On a boat with not much shelter, we got soaked by splashes from time to time. Apart from taking photos, we have to observe and note down the behaviour of dolphins on a two minute interval. Life on the boat is very busy!

Yet, being so low down near to the water surface, the encounter with dolphins were particularly rewarding. From time to time, dolphins came and checked us out. Some young ones even came to investigate our boat. While I was helping to take underwater footage of the humpback dolphins in shallow waters, one of them brought his / her catch to us. The other one came over to check out the camera for a while, swam away and came back again for another look. We even got the clicks of the dolphins recorded with the underwater camera. It is something I had never experienced and this will remain with me for the rest of my life. On our last day, we were blessed by fine weather and went out again to complete the unfinished section due to weather and took the chance to say goodbye to the dolphins. We were lucky enough to witness some very intimate moments of two young dolphins belly to belly near to the water surface. Even our scientist Dr. Hawkins had not seen the Humpback Dolphins doing this before!

Australian Humpback Dolphin Australian Humpback Dolphin

Back on land, we had to go through all the photos taken, identify the usable ones and compare the notches and pattern on the dorsal fins one by one. Then, we had to crop the dorsal fin out from the chosen photos and use special software to match with those identified individuals in the database. This was a time-consuming process as it was not common for the software to automatically find a match. We often had to sketch the outline of the dorsal fin for the computer to read. Yet, we identified a new individual! Apart from identifying individuals, we had to enter the data collected into the database for analysis.

Human threats to the dolphins in Moreton Bay include entanglement (from commercial and recreational fishing), hand feeding (which affect their natural behaviour), boat traffic, noise pollution, etc. During our survey, we had witnessed people feeding wild dolphins at the jetty. According to local legislation, feeding wild dolphins without a permit is illegal as this will affect the dolphins’ natural behaviour. Yet, in places like Tangalooma, special permits were granted with marine biologists monitoring the amount of fish to be fed to the dolphins.

I am very much touched by Dr. Hawkins’ passion for the dolphins. Apart from conducting research to study the population and the threats faced by dolphins, she took hold of every opportunity to work on educational programmes at the same time. As we are both dolphin conservationists, we exchanged our ideas on how to raise public awareness on various issues and what can be done. In the future, we will continue to work together on some educational programmes or publicity materials to raise public awareness on dolphin conservation.

Personally, the Australian Humpback Dolphins are special to me, as they are close relatives of the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins of Hong Kong. I was blessed enough to see them resting, milling, feeding and even socializing within one week. Thank you dear dolphins for bringing me so many gifts every time I see you at your home.

Wild Koala and Kangaroo

Species: Australian Humpback Dolphin, Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin, Dugongs, Loggerhead Turtle, Green Turtle

Research Organization: Dolphin Research Australia

On the way from Sydney to Broome, the famous Ayers Rock was sighted!