Marine mammals - whales, porpoises and dolphins are from the cetacean family. They are fishlike in shape, and like fish, have a caudal (tail) fin used for propulsion and pectoral fins for steering. The caudal fin, or fluke of a cetacean is horizontal, functioning in an up-and-down movement, whereas fish, whose tails lie in the vertical plane, use a side to side motion.
The Southern Right whale, which is a baleen whale, frequents inshore waters from April/May to October. During this time it calves and breeds in southern Australia before it returns to its sub-Antarctic feeding grounds. The gestation period for most whales is around a year. Most species deliver tail first. Like all mammals, whales and dolphins give birth to live young and suckle them on milk. They may only calve once every three or four years or even less frequently. The blows of whales are distinctive. The blow of a Right whale resembles an inverted cone and seen as two distinct jets. Baleen whales produce sounds described as low frequency moans, sighs and rumbles.
The Right whale is solidly built, reaching maximum lengths of 18 mts (60 feet) and may weigh 50 to 90 tonnes. Their blubber measures up to 40 cm thick. Adult Southern Right whales probably feed little, if at all, in Australian waters. Right whales are slow swimmers, rarely swimming over 5 kmph. They are renown for their leaping, known as breaching.
Baleen whales are large creatures that feed on small organisms. Hanging from the upper jaw in all baleen whales are a series of horny plates that overlap and are fringed with hairlike bristles known as baleen or whalebone, which is a fibrous material, horny in texture, consisting of triangular plates with two long sides and a short base.They feed by swimming slowly along with their mouths open through swarms of food organisms, taking in huge mouthfuls and then expelling water by raising their huge tongues.
The presence of numerous callosities (thickening of the skin) several inches thick on the head are a unique feature of this whale. The function of these yellowish horny growths is unknown, but they are a home for whale parasites. The growths vary from whale to whale and are so distinctive that the whales can be individually identified. Calves are born with callosities.
During Winter experience the Whale Watching Charters run by Fowlers Bay Eco Park.
From around June to October each year (or whenever the Southern Rights decide to arrive and depart the bay) Fowlers Bay Eco Park operates whale watching charters.
Come and experience the magic of the Southern Right Whales who visit Fowlers Bay up close and personal on the charter boat "Jaguar" sitting with the whales and learning the behaviours of each individual.
During 2010 Fowlers Bay saw 8 permanent whales in the bay - one in particular - Scotty - was unbelievable!!
Simone from Fowlers Bay Eco Park tells Scotty's story "At the beginning of the season - we saw Scotty mostly on her own. She would be spotted as far East as Clare Bay and as far West as Mexican Hat - a distance of around 20nm. We ended up calling her Scotty - short for S'got No Friends - as she seemed to be a bit of a loner.
Throughout the season, we learnt a lot about who was who. Scotty was just a juvenile - around 10m in length, and we believe, was here as the protector as once 2 of the other mothers had calved - she appeared to be a "babysitter" as she played with the calves and bounced between the 2 groups.
Each time we went out on the water, the whales, and Scotty in particular, became more and more familiar and comfortable with our presence. On several occasions, she would breach right next to us. She would tail lob and swim underneath Jaguar.....making sure to have a really good and close look at us all gazing back at her in awe as she swam under our stern!
At times, she would also bring one of the calves in for a closer look, as they both swam underneath us. And on one particular occasion, she lifted her tail next to our gunnel and gently touched the side of the boat.............as you would expect - everyone's hearts were in their throat as Scotty nears double Jagauar's length!! But she was more gentle than you could possibly imagine. For us - each of these experiences are more breath taking and exciting than the last - and for those onboard who had never experienced anything like this in their life - they left with a feeling that words can't explain!!"
So why not experience everything Fowlers Bay has to offer - give Rod or Simone a ring on (08) 8625 6143 or check out their website Fowlers Bay Eco Park.
Because it produced plentiful oil and bone, was slow swimming, came in close to the shore, was easy to kill, and floated when dead, this animal became known as the Right whale and an easy target for whale hunters. The Right whales are rich in oil and blubber. Figures of 13,800 Right whales being captured each year in the years from 1804 to 1817 have been quoted and whalers killed more than 25,000 of these whales around New Zealand and southern Australia between 1827 and 1930. There were 18 whaling stations in South Australia, with Fowlers Bay the one closest to the Head of the Bight.
Southern Right whales have been protected since 1935. In 1978 all Australian whaling stopped, and in 1981, the Government banned importation of all whale products. The oil was used for illumination and the bone for everything in which strength and flexibility were needed: corset stays, buggy whips, umbrella ribs, and skirt hoops. Even the fringes of baleen were used as stuffing for upholstered furniture.
Whales sometimes swim in shallow waters close to the shore. They can easily be seen from headlands, cliffs and beaches, but views from a height are best. Don't forget your binoculars. Please remain quiet as loud noises may alarm the whales and cause them to leave. Vessels are not allowed within 100 metres of a whale and must not come between adults and calves. Swimmers and divers should not enter the water within 30 metres of whales.
The Southern Right Whale is on the endangered species list. 1993 estimates put the world population between 1500 and 3000 whales and the Australian population around 400 - 600.The Great Australian Bight is one of the two most significant breeding and calving sites for this species in the world. Whales visit this area to calve, nurse their young and breed, and in so doing, provide some of the best research sites and whale watching opportunities in the world. In 1994, researchers identified around 100 individual Southern Right whales here.
For best photographic results use a telephoto or zoom lens, up to 250 mm focal length and use a 200 ASA film. A polarising filter will eliminate sun glare.