Blue whales of Perth Canyon

Its been quite some time since I discovered that Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) visit Perth Canyon in Apr-May.  Perth canyon is approx 22kms off the coast of Fremantle and has depths of 700m-4kms!  It’s similar dimensions to the Grand canyon but of course you can’t see the scale with all that ocean on top.  The whales are coming to the canyon feeding on aggregations of krill – tiny marine shrimp, that feed a whale that can get up to 25m long!

I have always had an interest in Blue whales ever since seeing the 24m long skeleton in pride of place in the WA museum.  I have not been able to show my kids yet – but I’m excited that come 2020, it will be featured in the new building.

I volunteered to organise a WA Naturalists excursion utilising the family business Whale Watch Western Australia – the only company that visit the canyon for whale watching.  As part of my planning I checked out the company previously on a Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) tour in October off Fremantle.  I had been to the canyon once before on a pelagic bird watching tour where we had an amazing sighting of Orca (Orcinus orca).

We had planned to go a month before, but one day before the trip the boat hit a floating semi-submerged boat wreck and sheared off one of the blades on one of the props!  We had over 20 people signed up – so lots of communication as we all had to reschedule once they were able to get a replacement prop built from scratch and installed.

 

We boarded MV Steep Point just before 8am with 44 on board – 4 of us WA Nats members plus some family members.  The above photos are from my previous trip as I forgot to take new ones.  The day was perfect, not a cloud in the sky, with light easterly winds which were going to drop, no swell to talk off, and sunny & mild (~27ºC).

Leaving Fremantle

Rottnest to the East – not a common view!

We were surprised by a pair of humpbacks – an adult with a yearling calf – they were just west off Rottnest migrating North and the earliest of the season.

I saw a couple of Great crested terns (Thalasseus bergii) and then a pair of fisherman in a pretty small boat for how far out they were!

As we came to the canyon and started looking for whales we sighted some splashing a long way off, which turned out to be a few hundred Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba).  The pod was hugely energetic with many launching into the air.  Really spectacular and a new species of mammal for me.

We then headed on to the northern most part of the canyon looking for Blue whales – they tend to be found on the walls as it is thought they herd the krill using the structure.  For some time we didn’t see any whales and I must confess I thought we might be too late in the season.  But then a misty blow was seen perhaps more than a km off and we headed towards it, seeing a few more blows on the way.

Blue whale blow @ Perth canyon

We then saw the blue whales – approx 25m long – which is the same length as our boat carrying 50 people!  Another lifer species for me – two in one day!

Blue whale @ Perth Canyon

The name blue whale was first referenced in the book Moby Dick and refers to the aqua blue colour of their skin when underwater (see the aqua strip in the image below – out of the water they are a mottled grey colour.

Submerged Blue whale @ Perth Canyon

We saw 4 individual whales ranging from the 25m adult above to a yearling approx 14m long (see darker grey image bottom right below) – which is the same length as the adult humpback we saw earlier!

One interesting fact is the mottled colouration on the whales can come from healed scars from cookie-cutter sharks.  They have circular sucker mouths and teeth that take a plug of flesh – the below image shows the whale just below the dorsal fin and then a close up where you can see the wounds from the shark.

After spending a good few hours with the blues we headed for home – the sun on the water was amazing.

Just heading out of the canyon we came across another (or maybe the same) pod of striped dolphin – these were launching into the air!

We also saw a few Australasian gannets (Morus serrator) on the way back.

I highly recommend the tour company Whale Watch Western Australia – they are a family run business and really care passionately for the whales and their customers.  The day tour included all meals, drinks and also beer, cider & champagne celebrating our sightings!  Fingers crossed I might be able to arrange an Orca trip out of Bremer Bay next April – I did say they might need to include child care in their packages!

Below are some photos from the boat to give an idea of the viewing.  On the shorter tours the captains cabin is only accessible with a higher level package.

The WA Nats crew for our expedition – a shame we couldn’t get everyone on the same tour.

All in all this was a trip of a lifetime – I am already planning to take my wife and 4 year old son to see the Humpbacks come September!

Advertisements

Ahoy there matey, thar she blows…

Perth is a great place to watch the Humpback Whale migration.  In September to November the whales are heading south to the Antarctic feeding grounds.  During the middle of the year they calve up near Ningaloo often not feeding for many months.

I went with a commercial company called Whale Watching Western Australia as I wanted to try them out.  They will be doing commercial Blue Whale trips off Perth Canyon in April.

We left Fremantle Sardine jetty at 9am for a 2 hour trip – heading past the shipping lanes to a spot between Cottesloe beach and Rottnest.

It was a little lumpy due to the bad weather in the days leading up to the trip and also overcast but no rain.

Once past the ships we saw a small pod of bottlenose dolphins but they were too quick to get a photo of.

We soon saw our first humpback whale – a mum with her calf.

Humpback mother with calf in Perth waters

We were soon joined by another mother with calf and it seemed like the calves wanted to play!

We were treated to all sorts of behaviours and at one time had 4 pods of mother & calves around the boat.  The captain was careful to keep the boat at distance and allow the whales to approach closer if they wanted to.

We also had this petrel hanging around that I haven’t been able to identify yet.

We then headed back saying bye to the whales and seeing this cool sailing ship.

My last interesting sighting was an Australasian gannet that dived into our wake.

The company write up each trip and also add their own photos.  I would recommend using them and will see if I might be able to see Southern rights and Minke on different trips at different times of year.  I will definitely be planning the blue whale trip and will be encouraging a group of WA Naturalists to join me.

Dolphins in the Swan River

Just a quick blog with no real photos today.

I rode my bike into work today and had a lovely view of a mother dolphin with calf as I crossed over the Windan Bridge – very close to the new Perth stadium.  No photos unfortunately.

The Swan River is host to a pod of approx 25 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins.  More information can be found at Dolphin Watch and they encourage people to become dolphin watchers and use an App to record sightings.

There were reports of 2 calves born in March – so perhaps the one I saw this morning was one of them.

Wonderful that we have mammals in our river so close to the CBD.

Perth Pelagic Birdwatching Trip

I went for my first ever pelagic bird watching trip on the weekend.  I had wanted to go on one for ages but none had been close enough.  I was up at 5am for a 6:30am and 6:45 departure from Fremantle.  I had been worried about the weather but it was only overcast and the forecast was a window of good weather before a cold front came in the evening.  There were 28 of us – I didn’t know anyone but was amongst similar minded people.

We got ourselves underway and saw a few common seagulls and a welcome swallow on the way out.  We saw our first Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross just before we hit Rottnest – this was my first lifer of the day.  Next a call went out “Orca” or Killer Whales.  I had secretly been hoping for some mammals on the trip and I got really lucky early on – they are pretty rare around Perth and these were found just on the seaward side of Rottnest – not that far off West End.

The pod had a couple of males identifiable by there tall thinner fin and some females with the more rounded dolphin like fin.

 

We had amazing views of an animal I have always wanted to see but thought I was going to have to travel to Bremer Bay or Exmouth to see!  I was very excited 🙂 We then headed out further to see the birds..

We then saw a Cape Petrel – new for me – but pretty common on the ocean.

20160821-102A4959

Cape Petrel

Our destination was the start of the Perth Canyon approx 25 nautical miles offshore (45kms for non seafaring types!).  It is incredibly deep and we were in depths of 800m+.  This is where you get the pelagic birds – amazing to find them so far away from land.  We had a tuna oil slick and were chumming with mulies.  Pretty soon we had a bunch of majestic albatross behaving like squabbling seagulls!

20160821-102A5170

Gaggle of Indian Yellow-nose Albatross

We saw a rarity – a subspecies of the Yellow-nosed Albatross – the normal ones around Perth are the Indian but we also saw an Atlantic – quite a long way from home.  You may have to take my word for it (I took others) but the darker eyes are the indicator for that subspecies.

The map below gives a good idea where we headed out and also where I took most of my photos – I took 500+ this day – but heaps were blurry.  I learnt some new skills balancing on a rocking boat trying to aim a huge lens at a flying bird – it can mean plenty of blurry shots and some just of water!

20160824-Pelagic Trip Map

We went out a looooong way!

Assorted photos of most of the bird species I saw.

It was an awesome day – 14 new species of Perth and 1 new mammal.  I was also really pleased with some of my photos taken in challenging conditions.