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CAIRNS & PORT DOUGLAS
Great Barrier Reef diving and snorkelling

HUMPBACK WHALES IN CAIRNS & PORT DOUGLAS

HUMPBACK WHALES

It’s always exciting to see the gentle giants of the sea, the Humpback Whales arrive in our warmer tropical waters and a great bonus for our passengers and crew.

Generally, the onset of autumn sees the humpbacks begin their long trek up the east coast of Australia to the Great Barrier Reef. While not guaranteed, regularly sightings at the reef occur during the months of July to September.

They are easily identified by their extremely long pectoral fins and scalloped flukes. Humpbacks are referred to as Baleen whales, as they filter sea water through large fibrous plates in their mouths to feed on the krill. They rarely travel any further north than Cape Tribulation, so we are at the end of their long migration and they tend to gather here in large numbers.

The reason they travel north is to get to warmer waters to breed and calve. Warm tropical waters have little food for the whales to feast upon, so the whales rely on their fat reserves they have accrued by feeding on krill in Antarctic waters. As they travel up the coast, the whales begin to form small groups or mating pairs.

About the Humpback Whale:


Humpback whales regularly migrate from Antarctic waters along the east coast of Australia every winter to mate and give birth. These giant leviathans are found in both hemispheres, but rarely, if ever, cross the equator creating two different races. Their numbers along the East coast of Australia were decimated for about 100 years, but since whaling was stopped in 1962, numbers have steadily increased.

Humpback whales are easily identified by having extremely large pectoral fins (their scientific name is Megaptera, which literally means giant wing!) and scalloped flukes.

Do they emit any sounds?
Male humpbacks produce “songs”, which are believed to attract females at mating times (although there have been records of songs in summer, the non breeding season). The songs comprise a magical mix of clicks, moans and eerie wails. These songs can have distinct patterns and can last for over 20 minutes with the whale only pausing to take a breath. The same song will often be repeated for hours on end. Females are not known to vocalize.

What type of behaviour are we likely to see?
Humpbacks can display a wide range of behaviour, such as:

  • Spy Hop: Humpbacks will often surface vertically, and actually stick their head out of the water so that they can see above the waterline. There is nothing like being eyeballed by a 15m whale!

  • The Blow: Often the first indication that a whale is in the area. The vapour cloud produced is caused when the whale empties its lungs, and can be quite pungent if you’re downwind!

  • Breaching: The most spectacular display of all, where the animal leaps almost clear of the water, creating the kind of splash that only a 40 tonne animal can produce!

  • Tail slapping: This is where they slap their tail on the surface. It can be a form of communication, but more often than not it is an aggressive display.

  • Bubble Netting: A technique developed to allow whales to entrap their prey (krill) by creating a ring of rising bubbles. The whale then moves through the net and uses its baleen to trap the prey.

See Whale Videos

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