Whales & Humpback Whales
Around 14 species of whale have been spotted on the Ningaloo Reef including sperm whales, killer whales, southern right whales and minke whales. The species we see most frequently however, is the playful humpback whale.
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) pass by the Ningaloo Reef on their migration to and from their breeding grounds further north. Humpbacks make the long migration each year from Antarctica to mate and give birth in the warm breeding grounds near Broome. The ‘little ones’ are born at a massive 5 meters and will be around 9 meters after spending a year with mum. They are able to grow so quickly because they are feeding on mum’s milk which is 40% fat (human milk is 2% fat). When humpbacks get older they will start to eat plankton and small fish just like their parents.
These whales are mysticytes, which means they possess baleen plates. They are also roquels and have the ability to bring huge amounts of water into their pleated throat pouches. They gulp in the water containing plankton and are able to catch the tiny pieces of food as they drain the water back out through the baleen plates. Humpback whales eat very little whilst on their migration but when they return to the plankton rich waters of Antarctica they are able to consume up to one tonne of food each day!
Here in Coral Bay we will often see the characteristic ‘blow’ of these whales just past the edge of the reef and are sometimes lucky enough to have them coming into Bateman’s Bay for some rest and relaxation. Fortunately for us these humpback whales are very playful and we often see them doing all sorts of aquatic manoeuvres. Breeching (jumping out of the water and creating a huge splash when they land), fin slapping (slapping their massive pectoral fin on the water), and peduncle slapping (slapping their tail on the water) are just some of the behaviours we see. It is thought that the main purpose of these behaviours is communication. Having a nice safe place to rest as they migrate is very important and there are strict whale watching guidelines that are followed.