Whale Watching Report - 21st July 2016
Mild conditions in Warrnambool for the past week have done little to improve local whale watching with only a few sightings since last Thursday. The most significant sighting has been the arrival of a mother and calf at Logan’s beach last Monday, however that was very short lived and they haven’t been seen for the last three days.
Although there is every possibility they may return and given the number of sightings along the coast it won’t be long before we see a mother and calf back in the bay at Logan’s beach.
Visitor numbers during the last week have been relatively small which is quite possibly due to the lack of any whales in the bay at Logan’s beach and with the exception of Monday when we had a mother and calf in the bay there have been relatively few visitors at Logan's beach.
The weather bureau are forecasting more cold and wet conditions over the next few days so whale watching this weekend will require some warm clothing and a bit of patience
The Season so far
In news from other areas, Portland currently has a mother and calf along the Dutton Way about 5kms east of the city and they have been sighted consistently for the last three days, the only drawback is that the Dutton way does not have an elevated viewing position so unless the whales are very close to shore you won’t see much.
There has also been numerous sightings from around Apollo Bay and Lorne in the last few days, with numbers ranging from one to three whales, however these sightings are of whales which are moving along the coast so within an hour of the sighting they could be many kilometres away.
Closer to home, Port Fairy has had three whales spotted at East Beach last week but the sighting was only for a few hours and no sightings have been reported in the last few days.
Finally, South Australia seems to be going through a quiet patch with no sightings for the last two days, the area around Victor Harbour usually has many more whales that the South West coast but this year the sighting seem to be less frequent and the numbers limited to one or two whales. There hasn’t been any information from the Head of the Bight sanctuary ( near Ceduna) for the last three weeks but at last count they had over 100 whales in the area.
How To Milk A Whale And Other Crazy Stunts
A few years ago an article appeared in the local newspaper entitled, "How to milk a whale and other crazy stunts", it was written by a local journalist who writes a weekly column under the pseudonym of Roger Sinclair. In the article Roger pointed out that for the last decade or so, the local council and tourist authority have been milking the whales for all they are worth, and although Southern Right whales have been visiting Warrnambool for as long as anyone can remember, it was only when whale watching become fashionable, that the local council saw them as a tourist cash cow.
This lead to the building of an expensive access road, car park and lookout platform at Logans beach and having spent all this money proudly announced to all and sundry that Warrnambool was Australia's Southern Right whale capitol and the place to visit if you wanted to see whales.
This would be fine if you could guarantee to see whales whenever you visit Logan's beach, but unfortunately the whales don't arrive on cue and to quote Roger "we can have no control over when and where they appear and to pin a great deal of fiscal hope to it for the city has always been madness."
The problem has not been with the facilities at Logan's beach or with the uncertainty of whale visits ( as this is part of the mystique of whale watching) but rather with the misleading advertising that has surrounded the local whale season, and this has created expectations beyond reality and lead to a number of disappointed tourists ( and tour operators). .
On the positive side, Logan’s beach in Warrnambool is one of only two locations in Australia where mothers and calves are seen at a fixed location and where a purpose built whale lookout has been constructed, the other being at the Head of the Bight near Ceduna which is about 1000 kilometres from the nearest major town.
Warrnambool’s whale watching facilities are also the most accessible in Australia, where the facilities are within the city boundaries and where you can park your car and walk literally a dozen paces to see whales.
The one area where Warrnambool’s whale facilities could be improved is whale sighting information, and although the council have spent a $1million plus on the facilities, visitors still have no way of telling whether there any whales currently in the bay, and it is common to see visitors getting out of their cars, walking up to the lookout and staring at a seemingly empty ocean then getting back in their cars and driving away.
A simple sign at the lookout which indicated whether there were any whales in the bay and a map with a magnet marker would be quite inexpensive and would quickly show if there were whales at Logan's beach and roughly the direction in which to look, and would make the visitor experience so much better
The documentary video (above) 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 in Warrnambool. This documentary was produced in 2014
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.