Last week Sea World Cruises encountered the first newborn of the season. The little one, delightfully named ‘Joy’ by whale watching guests on board, appeared to be less than a week old. Newborn humpback whales are light grey in colour, 3-4 metres long and weigh up to 1 tonne. Joy was seen sticking close to his or her mother, clumsily popping in and out of the water.
Surprisingly, calves are unable to swim when they are born. Due to this, mum will put her baby atop her nose and bring the baby to the surface to take their first breath. During their first few months, calves will stay close to their mother, resting under her fins or hitching a ride above her mouth in a behaviour called slipstreaming.
Warm Queensland waters make for an ideal calf nursery. Calves are born without any blubber fat, which adult whales use to keep toasty in cold Antarctic waters. Little Joy has a lot of growing to do to prepare for her big journey south and will spend her time feeding up to 300L of her mothers milk a day.
The milk is yoghurt-like in texture and bright pink due to the mother’s krill-only diet. The milk is so rich in fat that calves put on a staggering 45 kilograms of bodyweight each day. Calves are weaned from their mothers after one year once their mother believes they are ready to be on their own.
Joy will soon be mimicking her mother’s behaviour. Mum will show off how to breach, head lunge, tail slap and everything else needed to survive by themselves. Heavily pregnant females are making their way through the Gold Coast, and Sea World Cruises expects to see more newborn calves in the coming weeks.
As the Gold Coast is seeing more calves and the East Coast humpback whale population numbers are flourishing, there has been an increase in incidence of entanglements. In the first few weeks of the whale season, Sea World Foundation has unfortunately encountered a number of whales in need of rescue.
Research suggests that 300,000 dolphins and whales die annually around the world due to fishing gear and marine debris. Entanglements pose a serious animal welfare issue, with animals sadly being unable to surface for air or becoming severely injured due to lacerations.
Last week, the Sea World Foundation rescue team conducted specialist whale disentanglement training session. The session consists of taking their purpose-built ‘training whale’ out to sea and practicing approaching, grappling and using cutting equipment to assist an entangled whale.
The training whale travels at 4-6 knots (11km/h), similar to the speed of an entangled whale. During a real rescue, the team may have to attach floats on the whale to slow it down, as a fast moving whale can be hard to approach safely. Once the skipper has the vessel and whale in the right position, the cutting team will use a special knife to cut away the ropes and lines caught on the humpback.
If you spot an entangled whale or other injured marine life, call the Sea World rescue team on 07 5588 2222.
Sea World Cruises expects to see many more playful calves and curious whales throughout the school holidays. See them for yourself with a special family rate. Purchase a family ticket and get one child free! Book now at seaworldcruises.com.au/whale-watch-tickets/