Humpback Highway: See The Humpback Whales
Enjoy the spectacle of the Humpback Whale Watching from your own private Balcony at Samarinda Holiday apartments!
Whales can be seen from a number of vantage points at Point Lookout. On the North Gorge Walk, excellent views are obtained from Norm’s Seat and above Whale Rock.
At the Frenchman’s Bay end of Timbin Road, elevated timber platforms have been provided, for views over Boat Rock and The Group rocks just offshore.
Whales can also be seen from the beach behind the breakers midway down Main Beach.
On their more leisurely return migration, whales can be seen in the waters between Shag Rock and the more distant Flat Rock. At these times Cylinder Headland and The Stradbroke Beach Hotel are excellent vantage points.
In the Southern Hemisphere humpback whales migrate from their summer Antarctic feeding grounds, along Australia’s continental coastline to tropical regions to breed and calve in winter. Most humpbacks return to the same breeding grounds for successive years.
After the migration passes Breaksea Spit at the northern end of Fraser Island, it enters the sheltered waters of the Great Barrier Reef and disperses widely between the Outer Barrier Reef and the coast. Calving usually occurs inside the reef at 18-19 degrees south, but has also been witnessed off Point Lookout.
The headland at Point Lookout is approximately 35m above sea level, from which the line of sight horizon is 18km away. Despite this, it is considered that the maximum distance at which a whale could be seen was 10km under good weather and sea conditions.
Since 1978, observers have been conducting systematic counts, tracking and fluke identification off Point Lookout headland, in an attempt to estimate the status of the whale stocks. Commercial whalers exploited humpbacks to the fullest between 1952 and 1962. They slaughtered about 10,000 along the east coast alone, from localities around Norfolk Island, Byron Bay and Tangalooma on Moreton Island. Populations were reduced to very low numbers, to possibly fewer than 500 animals in total by the end of the 1962 season.
Of all the largest whales, humpbacks are considered to be the most acrobatic and playful. It is a truly humbling experience to see 30 tons of humpback leap clear of the water, execute a perfect half twist with its splayed pectoral fins and disappear in a mountain of ‘whitewash’. This can occur many times in succession, however its purpose remains unclear.
But the breach, as it is called, is only one of a number of spectacular humpback behaviors seen in the waters off Point Lookout.
A powerful exhalation of breath is usually the first indication that humpbacks are present in the area. Owing to an emulsion of oil suspended in the blow, whale breath can be quite fishy to smell.
Fluke Up Dive
Following a blow, a humpback will often arch its back and roll forward until only its tail flukes are sticking up out of the water. Researchers have taken advantage of this particular behavior by compiling a photographic register of the individual markings on each whale’s tail. The characteristic arching of the whale’s back prior to a ‘fluke up dive’ is also how the humpback got its unusual name.
Peck Slapping, Tail Slapping
For humpbacks, slapping their pectoral fins on the surface of the water is something akin to an acrobatic feat. Each pectoral fin weighs in the vicinity of several tons and can be five meters long from base to tip. It is believed the behavior serves as a means of communication – a kind of “I’m here” splash. The same holds true for tail slapping, but it can also be used to indicate aggression.
Humpbacks are, by nature, highly curious animals and it can be quite disconcerting to the first time whale watcher to see a full size whale suddenly pop its head vertically out of the water and take a good look around before sinking under- water again.
When male humpbacks come together in the breeding grounds and compete for primary escort position with a female, fighting occurs. Large males will battle it out through a combination of head-butting, snorting, bubble blowing and inflated lunging (lunging with their mouths full of water in a bid to make themselves look larger). Males have also been known to ‘motor boat’ on rare occasions – a highly aggressive behavior in which both males swim at the surface and surge through the water side by side, creating a huge bow wave. Dominant males may well have to prove themselves several times during each breeding season.
Adult length approximately 13-14 meters.
Adult weight approximately 25-30 tons.
Enormous flippers (approximately one third of body length).
Small dorsal fin, knobby protuberances, often with attached barnacles on head, jaws and flippers.
Population in eastern Australian waters: 4000 – 5000 individuals, increasing by 12% annually.
Information provided by Straddie Kingfisher Tours