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    Warrnambool Whale Watching

    A comprehensive guide to whale spotting in the South west of Victoria in 2014 -
    Updated daily during the whale season



Whale Season Over
31st October 2014
Following a few days of overcast skies and windy conditions, spring weather has returned to Warrnambool today, with blue skies and light southerly breeze.
Although the weather has improved the whales season seems to have ended and despite the possibility of the mother and calf remaining in the bay until the end of October, this hasn't occurred, and unfortunately the urge to migrate has proved to be too strong and the mother and calf seem to have left somewhere around the 22nd of October
In summary, this year has been quite an unusual whale season with the early part of the season starting off brilliantly and then by early August the whales had suddenly disappeared and then after three weeks of no sightings, and when everyone thought the whale season was over, a mother and new calf suddenly appeared in the bay in the last week of August.
The arrival of the mother and calf revived the local whale watching season and this year, Warrnambool has proved to be the most consistent whale watching location along the South West Coast.
Port Fairy and Portland were the disappointing performers this season with just a handful of sightings, Port Fairy was well down on last year where last year there were up to 13 whales sighted at East beach and this year there was one only one or two whales seen at Port Fairy. Numbers of sightings from Portland were also down on last years figures, where this year there were periods, of up to two weeks where no sightings were reported, compared to last year where there were sightings every few days.
South Australia was also well down on 2013 with whale numbers down by about 30% on last year and numbers from the Whale Watching centre at the Nullarbor National Park (Head of the Bight) seemed to indicate they were also down on the previous year.
Despite the indication that whale numbers are down this year, these figures however need to be viewed in context as whales sightings are very cyclic and can vary widely from year to year, so it will be interesting to see how many whale we see next year.

Photo above taken 31st October - spring sunshine and blue skies, however no sign of the mother and calf. Just a handful of visitors at the Logan's beach lookout when this photo was taken.
From now on the beach will be taken over by local surfers

The documentary video (below) of local identity and whale watcher, Peter Read was produced by Warrnambool film maker, Colleen Hughson and features some spectacular shots of Southern Right whales at Logan's beach




Pleasant spring sunshine at Logan's beach today (31st October) and just a handful of visitors at the whale lookout

Photo below shows the proximity of the car park to the whale lookout and the beach .
Understandably this beach is also very popular with local surfers as the beach is just a few metres from the car park.


More Whale Information

Why do whales come to Warrnambool?
Warrnambool, Victor Harbour (in South Australia) and Bunda Cliffs at the Head of the Bight, (near Ceduna) seem to be the main calving grounds for Southern Right whales in Australia. No one is precisely sure why, but the best current explanation is that Southern Right Whales behaviour is similar to many herd mammals where they will isolate themselves from the herd and find a safe place to hide from predators, to give birth to their young.
In the case of Southern Right whales, they appear to seek out areas which are close to high wave energy coastlines (beaches with high swells and breaking waves), it is also thought that they seek out an environment where steep cliffs and deep waters are adjacent to where they intend to give birth.
Both the Head of Bight, Victor Harbour and Warrnambool sites are high wave energy coastlines and are adjacent to deep waters and both of these areas possess high levels of naturally occurring background sound. This background noise ( breaking waves) makes it difficult for acoustically sensitive predators such as Killer Whales to detect the presence of vulnerable Southern Right Whales mothers and calves.
The close proximity to deep waters also seems to have an effect of the acoustic masking of the area and may also play a role in developing swimming skills and the stamina necessary for young whales to undertake their annual migration of up to 5000 kilometres to the Antarctic.

South West Victoria's link with Southern Right Whales ( Including Logan's beach)
Firstly a few facts - each year between May and June, Southern Right Whales return to the southern coast of Australia ( also New Zealand, South Africa and South America) to give birth, raise their young and commence the breeding cycle again- of the many thousands of Southern Right Whales on the planet, a small percentage ( typically about a dozen) arrive in the south west of Victoria.
What seems to happen is, when they arrive off the coast, the pregnant females isolate themselves from the pod and search out a quiet location close to the shore to give birth, and then spend the next few weeks close to the shore while their calves gain strength. This behavoir pattern makes them one of the few species of whale that can be viewed consistently from the shore ( albeit for a few weeks from the birth of their calves). There seems to be a number of favoured locations along souuthern coast where the mothers will shelter with their calves, Warrnambool, Victor Harbour (SA) and Bunda Cliffs (WA) are the best known of these.
Bunda Cliffs on average will have between 30-50 mothers and calves each season, Victor Harbour will have 4 to 6 and Warrnambool seems to average from 2 to 3 mothers and calves each year.
One of the main advantages for visitors to Logan's beach, is the close proximity to the city, less than 5kms from the centre of the city - whereas Bunda cliffs is literally thousands of kilometres from a large city, also Logans beach offers such easy access, where you can get out of you car and walk about 20 paces to the whale lookout.
South West Victoria's link with Blue Whales (Portland - Cape Nelson)
Each year between November and April, along the South West Coast of Victoria (and South Australia) an oceanographic phenomenon called ocean upwelling occurs. A combination of winds and currents cause cold, nutrient-rich bottom water to be forced to the surface of the ocean. When the nutrients reach the sunlit surface zone, there is an explosion of minute plant life which includes 'phytoplankton', the basis of the marine food chain, and also the primary food of the local species of krill. The vast numbers of krill form part of an ocean banquet which attracts large numbers of blue whales to this feeding ground off Victoria's coast. The event is called "The Bonney Upwelling" and is one of a handful of sites globally where Blue whales can be seen surface-feeding. Although the feeding site extends up to 30 - 50Kms off shore, they are often sighted closer to shore and between December and May blue whales are often visible from Cape Nelson, Cape Bridgewater and the Blowholes, all near Portland. The whales are often sighted within 10km of land, and sometimes within only a few hundred metres. Their tall straight blows and silvery backs can be seen from a great distance, and it likely that most whales seen blowing out at sea during this period are blue whales. This is one of the few places in the world where blue whales can be viewed from land, while they hunt for, and feed on the abundant swarms of krill which are nourished by the Bonney Upwelling.

The Real Whale Facts -
An illustration of how tourism never lets the truth get in the way of a good story

This small sign is located at the Logan's beach whale lookout, and without peering at the screen too closely it states "a visit to Flagstaff Hill will allow you see what life was like when present day Warrnambool stood at the centre of a large whaling, sealing and fishing industry". It all sounds very wonderful but the only problem is that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any whaling or sealing ever took place in Warrnambool.
Warrnambool was not settled until 1848 and by then the whaling and sealing industries in Port Fairy and Portland had all but ceased. Records kept from the time of the first settlement do not mention anything about whaling in the town and as there has never been any evidence of European occupancy prior to this date there is nothing to suggest that any whaling and sealing was ever conducted in Warrnambool.
The notion of Warrnambool's involvement in the whaling industry is only quite recent and dates back to the 1970's when the association between whales and tourism became popular and it became desirable to have some form of historic connection with the annual visit of the Southern Right whales. Local tourism authorities then started to imply that Warrnambool had been settled by whalers and sealers, which they thought sounded more romantic than being settled by farmers and shopkeepers.
The Visitor Information Centres then repeated this misinformation in brochures and advertising, and within a short time lies had become facts
During the 1980's a permanent display of whaling, whale boats and harpoons was set up in Flagstaff Hill Maritime village, and the many thousands of visitors to Flagstaff Hill were told that Warrnambool was the epicentre of whaling in the region and by this time even the locals were believing the myth, so much so that the local tourism body started to promote whale boat races, and over a period of several years, teams from America competed in an International challenge series, thus cementing the concept that Warrnambool was somehow the centre of the whaling industry.
The reality should have been obvious, there was no one living in Warrnambool until 1848 and the nearest settlement was at Port Fairy (over 20 kilometers away), so why would whaleboat crews row all the way to Warrnambool ( about 4 hours rowing time) and then catch and kill a whale then try to drag a 50 ton whale back to Port Fairy, when there were whales already in the bay at Port Fairy .
The idea that Warrnambool had some connection with early whalers might be romantic to some, but historiical evidence ( and plain logic) shows it is totally incorrect.

Local Whale Watching

The two main species of baleen whales that migrate to Australian waters each winter are the Humpback and Southern Right whales, the Humpbacks are the faster swimmers and they usually arrive off the south west coast of Victoria in late April to early May.
They are on their way to Queensland so won't be stoping off on the way. At present there has been a few whales sightings off the coast but these will be Humpbacks whales and will typically be about 1 or 2 kilometers off shore.
Humpback whales can be seen from the whale lookout at Logans beach but you will need a lot of patience, a good pair of binoculars and a bit of expirience in identifying the whales spouting, also they rarely will come cloer than a kilometer to the shore so don't expect a very close view.

The Southern Right whales, however live their lives at a more pedestrian pace and swim a little more slowly and their arrival off the coast of the Victorian mainland will be about a month behind the humpbacks, with the first sightings typically in late May to early June.
The Southern Right whales will no go any further north and prefer a winter holiday in a slightly cooler climate, also the Southern Rights will come a lot closer to the shore and typically during the whale season they can often be seen within 100 metres of the shore.
Although the first sightings around Logans beach will occur in late May / early June it will probably be Mid June before any whales take up permanent residence for the winter months, and hopefully the birth of a calf (or calves) will occur shortly afterwards.


The car park at Logan's beach is located about 20 metres from the whale lookout and has been designed for easy wheelchair access.





Other Articles
In This Issue

More Whale Information..
How big are Southern Right whales, how long is the pregnancy and what attacts mothers and calves to the bay at Warrnambool. This and other perplexing question are answered on this page... More..

Whale Tourism
We take a no holds barred look at how the tourism (and the pursuit of the almighty dollar) effects how we promote Warrnambool and its link with Southern Right whales More...


Putting it into Perspective
The photo below is typical view of how close the whales can get to the shore at Logan's beach and what visitors can expect to see from the whale viewing platform.
Although during the season the whales are not always this close to the whale lookout and


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Tips For Whale Watching

  • Check with the Warrnambool Visitor Centre for daily sightings
  • Take a good pair of binoculars or telescope
  • Be prepared for long periods of waiting
Whale facts
The Southern Right Whale is one of the largest mammals on the planet and only marginally smaller than the Blue whales and larger than the Humpback whales that are frequently seen in Southern waters. Female Southern Right Whales frequently weigh in at 85 tonnes, with the males coming in at about 20 tonnes less, at 55 tonnes or so. Length also varies from Female to male, with the female Southern Right Whales measuring up to 19 metres in length - with males growing perhaps 2 metres less than females.
At birth, the Southern Right calves are delivered tail first, measure about 5.5 metres in length and weigh about 1 tonne. For the next 3 to 4 months the young whale calves will gain 50 to 60 kilograms per day and grow to 7 or 8 metres in length, and by the time the young whale calves are ready to depart to the Antarctic they will typically weigh between 6 and 8 tonnes. This growth is made more remarkable when you consider that Southern Right Whale mothers hasn’t eaten for several months before the birth and won’t eat again until about 4 months after the birth. During this time she will typically loose about 20 tonnes in bodyweight and because the birth of a calf involves a very high expenditure of energy, it seems likely that evolution has caused the female Right Whales to possess a much greater body mass than their male counterparts. Not surprisingly female Southern Right Whales tend to breed only every three years or so, generally wintering in their Sub-Antarctic feeding grounds during the off breeding cycle.


More Whale information
The closest whaling station to Warrnambool, was situated in Port Fairy where the foundations of the early whaling station can still be seen close to the Griffith's Island lighthouse (picture above)

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