Each year, the coastline along the Otways plays host to 25 different species of migrating whales, including Southern Right Whales, Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and Killer Whales (Orcas). Many of these whales breed here and socialise with each other before heading off to feed in sub-Antarctic waters.
Southern Right Whales give birth to their calves in sheltered bays right along the south-west coast of Victoria. Both whales and dolphins are Cetaceans – a group of marine mammals made up of baleen whales and toothed whales. Baleen is a fibrous, bristle-like substance used by whales to sieve small prey from the sea.
Southern Right Whale
Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis)
Status: Least Concern.
Carnivore: The Southern Right whale is a baleen whale – a filter feeder. Baleen whales sieve tiny marine crustaceans such as krill from the sea as food. They can eat up to 400kg of food per day.
Weight: 80 tonnes.
Length: Males 16 metres, females 18 metres.
Colour: Dark grey or black with white patches on their head and belly and white calcites on their head.
Lifespan: Possibly up to 70 years.
Population: Approximately 10,000 in the Southern Hemisphere.
Did you know? Southern Right Whales were severely depleted by pre-20th century whaling. It is believed there may once have been between 70,000 and 100,000 in the Southern Hemisphere.
Breeding populations off Argentina and Brazil, South Africa and Australia have shown evidence of strong recovery with annual increase rates of 7-8 per cent. Southern Right Whales breathe air at the surface of the water through two blowholes located near the top of the head. They have a distinctive wide V-shaped blow, caused by the widely spaced blowholes on the top of the head.
A Southern Right Whale calf can be 5.5 metres long at birth and weigh 1 tonne. Newborns instinctively swim to the surface within 10 seconds for their first breath. Calves suckle their mothers for around one year with milk containing up to 40 per cent fat. They grow rapidly gaining up to 60kg a day.
The Southern Right whale is called this name because it lives in the southern ocean and also was considered the ‘right’ whale to hunt by early whalers. The whales were able to hunt the whale easily because it came close to the shore and it gave a good amount of oil when killed. This particular type of whale can be recognised by its smooth, black back and lack of a dorsal fin. On the head of each southern right whale are a number of crusty barnacle like growths that are called callosities, and these markings differ from whale to whale making them easily identifiable for tracking.
When to come – June to October.
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Status: Least Concern.
Omnivore: Also baleen whales, Humpbacks eat krill, plankton and small fish.
Weight: 40 tonnes.
Length: Males 14 metres, females 16 metres.
Lifespan: 45 to 100 years.
Populations: Humpbacks were heavily exploited by whaling from the 1920s-1950s in their Southern Ocean feeding grounds and tropical breeding grounds. They have shown evidence of a strong recovery towards their original numbers, which may have been up to100,000 (source: International Whaling Commission).
Did you know? Humpbacks use their massive tail fin to propel themselves through the water and sometimes out of it. These whales, like others, regularly leap from the water, landing with an enormous splash. Scientists aren’t sure if this breaching behaviour helps clean pests from their skin, or whether whales simply do it for fun
Killer Whale or Orca (Orcinus orca)
Status: Endangered in some regions.
Carnivore: Killer Whales have teeth and eat seals, dolphins, other small whales, fish, sea birds and squid.
Weight: 5.5 tonnes.
Length: Males 10 metres, females 8.5 metres.
Lifespan: 50 to 90 years.
Populations: There may be fewer than 10,000 in Australian waters (source: Australian Government, Department of Environment).
Did you know? Orcas, or Killer Whales, are the largest of the dolphin family and one of the world’s most powerful predators. Killer Whales hunt in pods of up to 40 individuals. Communication between Killer Whales is visual, via touch and sound. Individuals are recognisable by their distinctive black, white and grey colouration. In the days of whale hunting, Killer Whales scavenged from whale carcasses left behind by the whalers.
Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
Carnivore: Blue Whales are also baleen whales and eat krill.
Weight: Males 150 tonnes, females 180 tonnes.
Length: Males 31 metres, females 33.5 metres.
Lifespan: Possibly up to 80 years.
Populations: Although sadly remaining at very low levels (in the low thousands), encouragingly the available evidence reveals a growing population around 8 per cent per year (source: International Whaling Commission).
Did you know? The Blue Whale is the largest animal on the planet, weighing as much as 33 elephants. The blue whale has a heart the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Its stomach can hold one tonne of krill and it needs to eat about four tonnes of krill each day.
They are the loudest animal on Earth - even louder than a jet engine. Their calls reach 188 decibels, while a jet only reaches 140.
Logan's Beach at Warrnambool has one one of the best places to see these powerful creatures in a breeding nursery close to land. The whales often swim within 100 metres of the shore and you can see them from the viewing platform. You don’t have to hire a boat, just come to Logan’s Beach at the right time and its free.
The Southern Right whales come here to calve in these warm waters after they’ve been in the sub Antarctic during the summer months. They feed their young close to shore until September or October before leaving again for the cooler waters down south.
Each female nurses its calf for 12 months before they leave her and she becomes pregnant again in the next year.
Each year whales and calves perform for a gasping crowd and people smile and clap to see the antics of these magnificent creatures so close.
Sadly the Southern right whales were once hunted almost to extinction, but since whaling was outlawed in 1935 their numbers have been increasing. Today about a dozen breeding females use this nursery regularly.