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Name that whale

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Wild About Whales
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Marine mammals
Whale double breach. Photo: Jodie Lowe.

Seeing a whale launch from the ocean in a full breach is truly a sight to behold. With an expected 30,000 whales passing Australia’s east coast this year, spotting a whale from NSW’s national parks has never been easier.

Whilst spotting a whale can be straightforward, distinguishing your humpbacks from your southern right whales is not so easy. Let’s take a closer look at both these amazing whale species and see what sets them apart.

Humpback whales

Humpback whales (pictured above) are the stars of the annual whale migration and are one of the most common whales you will see when whale watching.

  • Humpback whales are a baleen whale and are renowned for their spectacular behaviour.
  • Humpbacks will leap out of the water, this is called breaching and scientists are still trying to figure out why humpbacks do this.
  • They have a small dorsal fin located nearly two-thirds of the way down their back, and their backs steeply arch as they dive. This is how the Humpback got its name.
  • Humpback whales have large pectoral fins (which may be up to a third of the body length).
  • Unique markings of black and white on the underside of the tail flukes are like fingerprints, no two are the same. This fingerprint, or fluke identification, helps researchers identify individuals as they migrate along the coast.
  • Humpback whales - give a large ‘bushy’ blow. They also swim along with a kind of rolling action, often continuously rolling completely over as they move through the water.
  • In general, humpbacks don’t tend to stay under water that long, usually surfacing every three minutes or so.

Humpback mother and calf

Southern right whales

The southern right whale is a baleen whale and one of three species classified as right whales. Some distinguishing behaviours and features include;

  • Southern right whales are known to come in close and hang around in the same place for hours.
  • Broad back without a dorsal fin, wide pectoral fins, a long arching mouth that begins above the eye and small rough patches of skin (or callosities) on its large head.
  • Very dark grey or black skin, with occasional white patches on the belly.
  • Two separate blow holes produce a distinguishing V-shaped blow.
  • Southern rights have an enormous head which is up to one quarter of total body length.
  • The callosities on the head are made of hard material, similar to human finger-nails, which appear white due to large colonies of whale lice called cyamids. The number, shape and position of the callosities are unique to each individual whale.
  • Here’s a handy infographic that will have you mastering the art of whale identification in no time.

Whale specific infographic

Download the Wild About Whales app to see where the whales are, and to find the perfect vantage point for spotting some humpbacks and southern rights.

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