About Whales

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About Whales

The whale species you are most likely to see along the coastline of New South Whales are the

  • Humpback Whale, and
  • Southern Right Whale

Other whale species you may see include:

  • Blue Whale
  • Minke Whale
  • Fin Whale
  • Sei Whale
  • False Killer Whale
  • Orca or Killer Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Pygmy Right Whale
  • Pygmy Sperm Whale
  • Bryde's Whale

Whales have graced the planet for over 50 million years and are present in all oceans of the world. The largest species of whales were hunted almost to extinction.
Often referred to as the gentle giants of the sea, they capture our fascination like few other animals. 

Whales are intelligent and often highly sociable. They are mammals, and like us, breath air, have hair on their bodies (though only very little), give birth to live young and suckle their calves through mammary glands. But unlike us, whales are expertly adapted to the marine environment with strong, muscular and streamlined bodies insulated by thick layers of blubber to keep them warm.

Whale species  
There are currently 86 recognised whale species, ranging from the small Hector's dolphin (at about 1.4 metres long) to the enormous blue whale, the largest animal on earth. 

Whale life cycle  
Like many mammals, large cetaceans go through ‘baby’ and ‘adolescent’ stages before reaching full maturity.

Whale research  
Dolphins are second only to humans in intelligence. Just how intelligent whales are is not yet known, however, their sophisticated behaviour and ability to learn suggests complex thinking.

 

Whale Migration

Most whales migrate to eat and breed. For example, baleen whales feed mostly on krill, which is plentiful in extremely cold waters. However, these cold waters are not a suitable environment in which to give birth – newborn calves are born without a protective blubber layer under their skin and would quickly freeze to death.

Migratory patterns
Most large whales migrate. Migratory patterns vary from species to species and also vary within and between populations. In populations of right whales, migration is mainly undertaken by pregnant females searching for warm waters to give birth. Whereas both male and female humpback and grey whales seem to undertake seasonal migrations.

Whales in Australian waters
At least 45 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises can be found in Australian waters. Humpbacks and southern right whales are the most commonly seen whales along Australia’s coastline, but some other cetaceans (marine mammals) that you may see include:

  • Minke Whales
  • Orcas (Killer Whales)
  • Pygmy Right Whales
  • Bryde's Whales
  • Bottlenose dolphins
  • Common Dolphins 

 

Whale Life Cycle

Life cycles can vary quite dramatically species to species, but roughly divided, the life cycles of whales can be split into three stages: Baby, Adolescent and Adult. The duration of each stage varies according to the species– and there are even species we know very little about!

Baby whales
Baby whales are called calves. The gestation period in most whale species is 11 to 16 months. Generally a single young is born, tail first likely in order to prevent drowning, and twins are extremely rare. The newborn calf is usually one-quarter to a third the length of the mother.

The ‘baby’ stage runs from birth until the calf is weaned, during which time the calf frequently nurses on the mother’s nutrient rich milk. Baleen whales will wean their calves by their first summer when they are less than a year old, while toothed whales take up to 3 years to be completely weaned. Calves grow very rapidly, thanks to the extremely high percentage of fat and proteins contained in whale milk.

Adolescent whales
Once the juveniles are weaned, they will start to mix with whales of the same age and gender. Male juvenile whales will form bachelor pods and leave their original pod. They will start searching for sexually mature cows, female whales, with whom to mate.

Female juveniles also start exploring outside their pod, but they are more likely to return to their matriarchal pod or to their mother.

Adult whales
The adult stage commences when the whale reaches sexual maturity. This can occur between the ages of 6 and 13 years, varying dramatically depending on the species.

Breeding will often take place seasonally in migrating species but in others it seems to occur throughout the year. In the adult stage, whales of both genders start searching for mates with whom to breed.

Sexually mature whales migrate to warmer waters during winter to mate. This ensures that when they return the next year, their calves will be born in more temperate conditions. Mating usually takes place every two to three years for the cow as her gestation period lasts for between 10 and 14 months. 

Some whales, like Humpbacks can theoretically produce one calf each year, with a gestation period of 11-12 months, but this rarely ever happens as it would strain the mother too much to calve every year.

 

Whales in Sydney Harbour 

Sydney is well positioned to see both the winter northern migration and the spring southern migration of the 'great' whales.

Whales have been entering Sydney Harbour for centuries. Evidence of this can be found at Balls Head in Wollstonecraft, where ancient Aboriginal engravings (believed to be over 1000 years old) depict the image of a large whale.

Visits since 2002
The number of whales entering Sydney Harbour has increased as of late. Humpback whales, including females, burdened with young calves, have been seeking shelter in bays like Manly. And though not as common in NSW waters, the southern right whale is very comfortable in the shallow warm waters of Sydney’s bays and estuaries. On several occasions since 2002 southern rights have entered the harbour, Pittwater or Botany Bay, to take up temporary residence and explore the smaller bays.

In July 2002, a whale and its calf swam deep into the harbour, going underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where an exclusion zone was set up by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. This allowed onlookers to photograph and watch the whales, whilst allowing them to swim where they liked and be left relatively undisturbed. 

In 2003, three whales swam into the harbour and thrilled onlookers by frolicking in front of the Opera House. The whales were photographed spy hopping and tail slapping.

In November 2007, a female humpback whale and her calf paid a short visit to the harbour. The whales were spotted near Bradleys Head, from where they made their way to Rose Bay before exiting the harbour a short while later.

In 2009 whale watchers on board a whale watching cruise were lucky to witness a pod of orcas, more commonly known as killer whales. This was a very rare sight, especially within the harbour.

Increasing visits
The increase in whales entering Sydney Harbour is partly due to improvements in the water quality. So hopefully these exciting animals will continue visiting and delighting Sydneysiders and visitors alike.

 

Aboriginal People & Whales

There has long been an association between the Aboriginal people along the coast and whales. Rock engravings and contemporary stories, some estimated as being over 1000 years old, show the strong relationship between local Aboriginal people, whales and The Dreaming.

Whales in Aboriginal Australia
Stranded whales were considered an important economic resource amongst the Aboriginal people. They used the fat to varnish their spears, boomerangs and tools. They also used whale bones to manufacture utensils, weapons and for other uses such as shelter.

Whales and early settlement
Early settlers recognised the importance of whales to the economy and quickly established shore-based whaling stations on the northern side of Sydney Harbour and on the far south coast of NSW. Local Aboriginal people played a key role in whaling from stations around Eden, including Boyds Tower and Davidson Whaling Station, which are now managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service as historic sites.

 

Typical Whale Behaviour

Breaching
Breaching is a form of surfacing behaviour where most or all of the cetacean’s body leaves the water. Many species do this, but some, such as humpbacks, seem to breach more frequently. There are many theories as to why whales do this: to communicate, to attract other whales or to warn off other males. But no one really knows exactly why – yet.

Lobtailing or tail slapping and fin slapping
Lobtailing occurs when a whale or dolphin lifts its tail flukes out of the water and then brings them down onto the surface of the water hard and fast in order to make a loud slap. Similarly, species with large flippers may also slap them against the water. This behaviour may be used to communicate, scare fish or may be a sign of aggression.

Spy-hopping
Sometimes whales lift their head and sometimes part of their chest vertically out of the water so that their eyes are just above the water line – this is called spy-hopping. It is believed that whales do this to take a look around above the water.

Blow
Whales blow air, water vapour and mucus as they surface to take a breath. Each whale species has its own distinctive blow.

Head Lunge
When a whale breaks the surface and falls forward instead of backward the action is called a head lunge.

Pectoral Fin Extension
Humpbacks are often seen waving their huge oar-like fins above the water. The creature lies on the surface and lifts one or both of its pectoral fins up out of the water depending on body position. Once extended, the fins can be waved about.

Tail Extension
Sometimes humpbacks are seen with their tail flukes extended above the water for up to 15 minutes at a time. This behaviour is rare but could be to do with feeding, as a calf is often seen bobbing around its mother's tail at this time.

Tail Slapping
Whales like to lift their huge tails high above the water and slap them down on the surface making a tremendous splash. This can be heard for great distances by others and is probably associated with marking position. Because of the formidable power of the tail, this behaviour should be interpreted as aggressive and the creature should be given plenty of room.

Peduncle Slap
The peduncle is the muscular part of the body nearest to the tail flukes. It is used in a variation of the tail slap where the tail is slapped in a sideways movement like a massive karate-chop. This movement is a sure sign that the creature could become aggressive.

Tail Slash and Tail Swish
Two further movements of the tail involve slashing from side to side in the water and swishing on the surface. Both these activities are also associated with aggression. Crews of whale watching boats watch for these behaviours as signs to move away.

Tail Cocking
Tail cocking is another sign of aggression that is used when stressed. An aggressor can cock its tail up in the air and then bring it down heavily on an opponent in a disagreement over territory. Humans should keep well clear.

Pec Slapping
The humpback has the largest pectoral fins of any of the great whales. The fins alone can weigh up to several tonnes! When brought down onto the water from the extended position they create a forceful splash which can be heard from quite a distance, both above and below the surface. Pec slapping is a common behaviour among humpbacks, thought to be used as a form of communication.

Pectoral Stroking
Pectoral fins are the equivalent of human hands. They are frequently used to stroke the body of another of the same species, likely during courtship and mating. Mothers and calves also stroke one another as a display of affection.

What to note when identifying a whale

  • body length
  • presence of a dorsal fin
  • size and position of the dorsal fin
  • shape and size of flippers
  • shape of the head and general body shape
  • presence of a beak
  • shape of the blow
  • body colour and patterns
  • swimming characteristics 
  • presence of teeth or baleen and number of teeth 

 

Whale Species

Whales developed from land mammals that lived in warm salty waters about 55 million years ago. They belong to the group of mammals called Cetacea, which also includes dolphins and porpoises. There are two different types of whales: toothed whales (Odontoceti) and baleen whales (Mysticeti).

Toothed whales
Most toothed whales have teeth, but some, such as Baird’s beaked whale have tusks, while the narwhal has a long spiralled horn, much like the mythical unicorn.

The Odontoceti include beaked whales, bottlenose whales and dolphins. It also includes the smallest of the cetaceans, the porpoise, and one of the largest, the sperm whale, as well as the largest type of dolphin, the orca which is also known as the killer whale. They adopt a single blowhole on the top of the head, which was formed from one of the nostrils becoming dominant over the other, rather than from them fusing together.

Toothed whales tend to eat squid, octopus, crustaceans, fish and occasionally other marine mammals.

Baleen whales
Baleen whales are named after their feeding apparatus: baleens. Baleen consists of a series of sloping plates made from keratin, the same material that makes up our fingernails. These hang from the roof of the mouth and are used to filter plankton, krill and schooling fish. Their lower jaws are very flexible and the mouth is expandable to accommodate the gulping method of feeding. Food is caught in the bristles of the baleen, while water is forced out of the mouth through the gaps.

Baleen whales have two blowholes, which in right whales produce a distinctive V-shaped blow, the spout of water spray and vapour blown out when the whale surfaces to breathe. Unlike most other marine mammals, female baleen whales are larger than males.

Baleen whales include right whales (southern rights, pygmy rights), grey whales and rorquals. The dorsal-finned rorquals include the largest animal on earth, the blue whale, which can grow up to 34m in length. Other rorquals that can be found in coastal Australian waters are the fin, sei, Bryde’s and minke whales. 

These whales have all been subject to considerable human exploitation.

 

Whales in Australia

Australia is quite privileged when it comes to whales – over 50% of the world's cetaceans are found in Australian waters. According to recent estimates at least 45 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises either visit or live permanently in Australia, including 9 baleen whales and 36 toothed whales species.

The number of whale species found in Australia could possibly increase. Ongoing research may identify new species based on genetic information. A recent example of this is the Australian snubfin dolphin (Orcaella heinsohn), which was classified as a new species endemic to the Australian region in 2005.

Whale distribution in Australia varies widely. Some species, like the orca, are widespread and found in all waters, while other species such as some beaked whales are much more elusive. In fact some whales are so elusive that the only information we have about them comes from when they become stranded.

Whaling started in Australia in the late 18th century soon after the first settlers arrived. By the early 19th century whaling stations were being developed along the coastline and whaling became one of Australia’s first export industries.

Rock engravings and contemporary stories show the strong relationship between local Aboriginal people, whales and The Dreaming. Some of these rock engravings and paintings are estimated to be over 1000 years old.

 

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales are renowned for their spectacular behaviour. Humpbacks will leap out of the water, roll in the air with their huge pectoral fins outstretched like wings, and crash noisily back into the water. This is called breaching.

Humpback whales have a small dorsal fin located nearly two-thirds of the way down their back, and their backs steeply arch as they dive – this is how the humpback got its name and it helps whale watchers distinguish them from other species.

Other distinguishing features include large pectoral fins (which may be up to a third of the body length), and unique markings of black and white on the underside of the tail flukes. These markings are like fingerprints, no two are the same. This fingerprint, or fluke identification, helps researchers identify individuals as they migrate along the coast.

Songs
The male humpback whale is famous for its extraordinarily long and complex songs, which scientists suggest could be to attract females. These submarine songs, composed by several elements, can last for hours. They are specific to different populations and can be heard hundreds of kilometres away.

Bubble-feeding
Humpbacks have developed a unique method of gathering prey. They release rings of bubbles at depth to capture schools of small fish and then surface mouth-open in the centre of the ring. Cooperative “bubble-netting” also occurs with multiple whales all releasing bubbles and surfacing together.

Migrations
Most humpback whales make exceptionally long journeys every year between their feeding and breeding sites. During summer months, populations in the southern hemisphere spend their time in Antarctica feeding. In late autumn they begin an annual migratory route to their winter breeding and calving grounds in the warmer tropical waters of the Pacific. They return south in spring. Humpback whales migrate around 5000km on average, one of the longest migratory journeys of any mammal on Earth.

 

Humpback facts

  • Length Adults: 14m to 18m; Calves: 4m to 5m at birth
  •  Weight Adults: up to 50 tonnes; Calves: 2 tonnes at birth
  •  Gestation 11 to 11.5 months
  •  Weaning age up to 11 months
  •  Calving interval 2 to 3 years
  •  Physical maturity Age: 12 to 15 years
  •  Sexual maturity Age: 4 to 10 years
  •  Mating season June to October
  •  Calving season June to October
  •  Cruising speed 8 km/hr
  •  Blow pattern Small and bushy, up to 4m
  •  Protected Since 1965

 

Southern Right Whales

The Southern Right whale is a baleen whale and one of 3 species classified as right whales. This species is distinguished from others by:

  • broad back without a dorsal fin
  •  wide pectoral fins
  •  a long arching mouth that begins above the eye
  •  small rough patches of skin (or callosities) on its large head

The Southern Right whales has very dark grey or black skin, with occasional white patches on the belly. Its two separate blow holes produce a distinguishing V-shaped blow. Southern Rights’ have an enormous head which makes up one quarter of their total body length. The callosities on the head are made of hard material, similar to human finger-nails, which appear white due to large colonies of whale lice called cyamids. The number, shape and position of the callosities are unique to each individual whale, and allow us to tell them apart. 

Whaling of southern right whales
Land-based whaling in Australia initially concentrated on southern right whales. They get their name because they were the “right” whale to catch: they were slow-swimming, floated when dead, and provided large amounts of valuable products - particularly oil for illumination and lubrication. Commercial whaling began in Australia in 1820, taking around 75% of the southern right whale population between 1835 and 1845, when the industry collapsed. It took another 90 years before they were announced officially protected. An estimated 12,000 southern right whales are spread throughout the southern hemisphere, compared to an original population before whaling of more than 100,000. However, their numbers are growing at around 7% per annum, which means that sightings are becoming increasingly common.

Migration and whale watching
Southern right whales are similar to humpbacks in that they feed in Antarctica in the summer and then migrate north to Australia to breed and give birth (especially in southern corners of Australia, around the Great Australian Bight).

These days, southern right whales delight whale watchers with their peculiar looks and crowd attracting antics, like breaching and headstands. Southern right whales are sighted regularly on the Australian coast from about mid-May to mid-November.

Souther Right Whale facts

  • Length Adults: 14m to 18m; Calves: 5m to 6m at birth
  •  Weight Adults: up to 80 tonnes
  •  Calves 1 to 1.5 tonnes at birth
  •  Gestation 11 to 12 months
  •  Weaning age 11 to 12 months
  •  Calving interval Generally 3 years
  •  Physical maturity Age: unknown; Length: 16m
  •  Sexual maturity Age: 9 to 10 years
  •  Length 12m to 13m
  •  Mating season July to August
  •  Calving season June to August
  •  Cruising speed 3km/hr
  •  Blow pattern V-shaped bushy blow, up to 5m
  •  Protected Since 1935

 

Blue Whales 

Blue whales are the largest and heaviest animal ever known to have lived on earth, even larger than any dinosaur. Blue whales average up to 30 metres in length and can weigh up to 173 tonnes. Females are larger than males. Blue whales have greyish blue skin with white spots and a small dorsal fin set far back on their body. They can move at speeds of up to 48 km/h and dive as deep as 500 metres, lasting 10 to 20 minutes underwater.

Blue whales use thin, overlapping baleen plates to strain food, usually krill, from the water. These animals spend winters in temperate and subtropical areas and travel to polar regions for summer. They usually travel alone or in small groups of 2 to 4 whales.

Whaling of blue whales
Blue Whales were extensively hunted unfortunately, due to their large size and high commercial value. The arrival of industrial whaling using faster boats and harpoon guns allowed for increased hunting on blue whales, and by the 1960s the species was nearly extinct.

Despite decades of protection, blue whale populations have yet to recover from the impacts of commercial whaling. It is believed the worldwide population of the blue whale is estimated between 10,000 and 25,000, and are currently considered an endangered species.

Blue whales now face other threats such as marine and noise pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, collision with ships and climate change.

 

Minke Whales

Minke whales are the second smallest (only the pygmy right whale is smaller) and most abundant of the baleen whales. They grow to be about 8 to 9 metres long and weigh between 5,400 to 6,800kg. As with all baleen whales, females are larger than males. Their long slender bodies are black to dark grey on top and white on the underside and they have a narrow, triangular jaw.

There are two species of minke whales: the common or northern minke whale and the Antarctic or southern minke whale. Minkes are known for their curiosity. They sometimes swim beside ships at speeds of up to 34 km/h.

Minke whales have the same diet as blue whales, feeding mainly on krill or small schooling fish. These elegant cetaceans often travel alone, but sometimes can be found in small pods of 2 to 3 individuals. 

 

Whaling of minke whales
Minke whales are the most widely hunted species in our oceans and continue to be threatened by continued commercial and so-called scientific whaling by Iceland, Norway and Japan.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified minke whales in their Red List Category and Criteria as 'Least Concern'. That means the population is estimated to be above the threshold considered to be threatened. However, the IUCN also recommends ongoing monitoring of the impact that the expected rise in Arctic temperatures have on minke whales in that region.

 

Dolphins

Dolphins are one of the most popular & beloved animals in the wild, with their beautiful streamlined bodies, friendly ‘smiley’ faces and intelligent behaviour. They are often regarded as one of Earth's most intelligent animals.

Dolphins are the most abundant and varied of all cetaceans, and can be found in the open ocean, close to the coast in estuaries and in rivers. There are over 40 species of dolphins worldwide.

Dolphins are toothed whales and eat a variety of fish, squid and octopus. Their size varies enormously, from the small Maui or Hector’s dolphin (1.4 metres and 50 kilograms) to the large orca or killer whale, which can be around 9 metres long and weigh over 7.5 tonnes.

Dolphins are social creatures that live in pods of up to 12 individuals; however pods can be larger where there is abundant food.

Dolphins in NSW
Bottlenose dolphins are a relatively common site along the entire NSW coastline. This species’ dark grey back and light grey belly colouring acts as camouflage and helps protect them from attacks by their natural enemies – killer whales and sharks. They can often be seen in bays and estuaries opening to the sea, and also “surfing” in waves as they are forming and breaking.

Jervis Bay on the NSW South Coast, and Port Stephens on the NSW Mid North Coast are wo of the best places to see dolphins.

To help protect dolphins it is important to keep the environment clean. Rubbish and plastic waste that ends up in the water can impact negatively on dolphins, which become entangled or swallow the rubbish mistaking it as food. Dolphins can sometimes become stranded, either alone or in groups.

If you find a beached dolphin, keep it wet and cool, and call the ORRCA 24 hour rescue line: 02 9415 3333.

 

Orcas 

Orcas or killer whales (Orcinus orca) are toothed whales and the largest species of dolphins. They are easily recognisable with their striking black and white or cream markings and large, tapered dorsal fins. Adult male orcas can grow to over 9 metres long and weigh over 7.5 tonnes, while females can grow to 8 metres or longer and weigh up to 4 tonnes.

Orcas have 10 to 12 pairs of interlocking, powerful, conical teeth in both jaws. They are carnivorous and opportunistic hunters who feed on a wide range of species including:

  • fish, such as salmon
  •  squid
  •  sea birds, including penguins
  •  pinnipeds, such as seals, sea lions and walruses
  •  other whales.

Orcas hunt in groups (pods) of 3 to 40 individuals using highly effective, cooperative hunting techniques, which is why they have the nickname ‘wolves of the sea’. Orcas are apex predators; they are at the top of the food chain with virtually no predators of their own.

However this places them at risk of health effects from the marine pollutants and contaminants they absorb from the food they eat.

Orcas are highly social animals that live in small nuclear or extended family groups. They have a “cosmopolitan” distribution, which means they are found in all oceans and most seas.

 

Other Whale Species

Sperm whales
Sperm whales, Physeter macrocephalus, are the largest of all odontocetes and among the deepest diving of all cetaceans - they are known to dive over 1000 metres and they can stay underwater for over an hour at a time. They are best known through the sperm whale character ‘Moby Dick’ in Herman Melville’s story of the same name.

Sperm whales have a unique appearance with a massive blunt, squared off head that can be up to 7 metres long (or one-third the total body length) and a relatively small underslung jaw. Adult males can grow up to between 15 to 18 metres long and weigh 35 tonnes while females can grow to 11 metres long and weigh up to 14 tonnes.

Sperm whales have a single blowhole on the left side of their head and it sits facing forward causing their bushy blow to project forwards rather than straight up in the air. Their bodies have a wrinkled and shrivelled appearance especially behind the head.

Sperm whales mostly eat deep water squid but also feed on fish, skate and octopus and can eat up to a tonne of food a day.

They have a cosmopolitan distribution but male sperm whales are found mostly in higher latitudes. These males sometimes migrate to lower latitudes, but only the largest males seem to migrate to the equatorial breeding grounds. Females, calves, and juveniles remain in the warmer tropical and sub-tropical waters.

Despite being widely hunted during the 19th and early 20th centuries, sperm whale populations remain quite healthy, especially in the southern oceans. Sperm whales are one of the more common stranding species on the coasts of NSW.

Pygmy sperm whale
The pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps, is amongst the smallest of all whales; they are about 1.2 metres at birth, growing to around 4 metres at maturity. Adults weigh about 400 kilograms.
Pygmy sperm whales are found in the temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They have 12 to 16 sharp pairs of teeth in the lower jaw and feed on squid, octopus, shrimp, fish and crab.

Pygmy sperm whales are found singly or in groups of 2 to 3 individuals. However, they are rarely sighted at sea, so most of what we know about this species comes from stranded animals. Pygmy sperm whales are also one of the most commonly stranded species in NSW.

Bryde’s whale
Bryde’s whales (pronounced BROO-duhz), Balaenoptera brydei, named for a Norwegian whaling entrepreneur nearly a century ago, are baleen whales and rorquals. Rorquals – Norwegian for “furrowed whale” – have a number of longitudinal folds of skin running from below the mouth back to the navel.

Like other rorquals, Bryde’s whales are long and slender and have much more streamlined bodies than other large whales. Bryde's whales are dark grey in colour on the dorsal side with a yellowish white ventral side. They have an average length of 12 metres, and the female is longer than the male. These whales can weigh 12 to 20 tonnes.

Bryde's whales are found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and off the coast of Ethiopia in warm temperate and sub-tropical waters. They are not migratory, but are known to move between inshore to offshore waters to follow food. They feed almost exclusively on:

  • pelagic fish, such as pilchard, mackerel, herring, and anchovies
  •  pelagic crustaceans, such as shrimp, crabs, and lobsters
  •  cephalopods, such as octopus, squid, and cuttlefish.

Bryde's whales are quite opportunistic and will consume whatever shoaling prey is available. They often take advantage of the activities of other predators by swimming through and engulfing the fish they have herded. They are therefore frequently found in areas of high fish abundance, along with seabirds, seals, sharks, and other cetaceans.

It is not known how many of these whales inhabit Australian waters, but extraordinarily, a Bryde’s whale swam up the Manning River near Taree, in Northern NSW in 2004.

Beaked whales
There are about 20 different species of beaked whales in the world’s oceans. Their key distinguishing feature is the presence of a 'beak', somewhat similar to that of most dolphin species. Beaked whales are highly specialised to dive to great depths and remain submerged for prolonged periods—20 to 30 minutes is common, and 85 minute dives have even been recorded.

Complex throat muscles help these animals suck their prey in, since they lack teeth for feeding. The teeth that some species of beaked whales do have are usually only used for fighting with other males. These animals are so elusive that most of what we know about them comes from stranded animals.

In NSW, the strap-toothed beaked whale is one of the most commonly stranded species of beaked whales. Size wise, beaked whales range from 4 to 13 metres in length and can weigh from 1 to 15 tonnes. Although the diet of beaked whales varies between and within species, squid are a key component of their overall diet.

 

Other Marine Species 

Marine ecosystems are home to an extraordinary range of species, ranging from tiny plankton – which is the base of the marine food web - to large marine mammals like the whales. Like all ecosystems, this is a delicate web and if one species disappears or their numbers decline, catastrophic impacts can be experienced by other marine creatures in the food chain.

Whale watching gives you the opportunity to experience marine ecosystems up close and get a better understanding of how all the species relate to each other, but for an even closer view, you should consider diving or snorkelling.

On whale watching cruises, you’re very likely to spot other species that share the ocean with whales, ranging from seals and sea lions, to small fish and crustaceans. Some of the marine mammals you should look out for when whale watching include:

Seals: Fascinating social animals that can be found up and down the NSW coast.

Penguins: The only species you’ll find in NSW is the Little Penguin, also known as the Fairy Penguin.

Sharks: NSW waters are home to a variety of shark species.

Marine turtles: 6 of the 7 species of marine turtles found in the world can be found in Australian waters

Sea and Shore birds: These birds spend most of their life feeding and breeding in the marine environment

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