Invertebrate mega-mix

I’m starting to run out of the more well-known Australian animals, with a couple of notable exceptions – but I need to get some better pictures of platypus and wombats before I post about them. Although there are plenty around they’ve been jolly elusive whenever I have my camera with me. So this post is going to cover a few spineless individuals! Let’s start with my picture at the top:

Jellyfish

There are, of course, loads of types of jellyfish around Australia’s coast. The one at the top is the delightfully named ‘blue blubber’ and was washed up on Fraser Island. The sting can be a bit painful but they pose no real risk to people.

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I’ve got no idea what sort this one is, but I took the pic in Melbourne aquarium and it looks cool. Of course the jellyfish you want to know about are the dangerous ones – and to be honest I’d go carefully with all jellyfish, as I don’t know enough about them. There are two – the box jellyfish and the irukandji (which is a type of box jellyfish) that you really, really don’t want to run – or swim – into. Both only live in tropical waters, so we don’t have to worry about them down here in Victoria, and indeed I’ve never seen either of them so no photos I’m afraid. The box jellyfish can get up to 20cm along each side of the ‘box’ but then has 3m of tentacles, while the irukandji is thumbnail size and both are transparent. The sting can be deadly, and is intensely painful, leaving huge scars wherever the tentacles brush across the skin. So go a bit carefully up on that idyllic tropical beach – make sure you’re in the dry season and/or swim on a beach with nets.

Flies

There are a lot of flies in Australia. We’ve found it pretty variable when they’re out to get you, but when they do, they’re really truly incredibly annoying. Unlike British flies they’re extremely persistent, and simply will not give up trying to crawl all over your face, back, hands, anywhere and everywhere.

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At Uluru we got fly nets that go over your hat and down to your neck. You look stupid but you won’t care. NB absolutely no-one ever wears those hats with corks around the brim – you can buy them in tourist shops but I have never seen anyone wearing one, even as a joke. We’ve had flies attack in WA while walking around a lake, and occasionally around here. The swarms below were at evening on Aqueduct Trail up behind our house – although thankfully they didn’t go for us:

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They generally won’t do anything nasty to you though, just send you insane with their persistent hassling. However you need to be a little bit more careful of…

Mosquitoes

We get a reasonable number of mosquitoes around here, more in summer although you can get them all year round. But that’s nothing compared to some more swampy areas, like the lovely Peppermint Grove beach in WA:

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I went inland to the nearby Tuart Forest to get some photos, and was absolutely eaten alive – and that was with the warning sign at ‘low’. There’s no malaria in Australia, but there are a couple of nasties you can get from mosquitoes in certain areas, eg Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses. Around us they just give you annoying itchy bites though.

Termites

I’ve never seen an actual termite – they hide away inside their mounds, but I’ve seen plenty of these up in Queensland. They’re impressively big – plenty taller than me – and decidedly solid, like concrete.

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These were around Innot Hot Springs (population 321) in rural Queensland. We went there to fossick for topaz which is found around there, but couldn’t get to the main site due to a lack of 4×4. The ‘road’ was dirt and had clearly suffered a lot during the last few wet seasons right from the start, and it was way too hot for the rather long walk. So we went for a shorter walk and enjoyed the scenery:

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Bull Ants

Not to be confused with bullet ants (which live in Nicaragua, and have one of the most painful stings in the world), bull ants are fairly common across Australia. You’ll know one if you see one – it will simply be the biggest ant you’ve ever set eyes on, with huge jaws out the front. They get up to 4cm long, and can bite and sting you at the same time if you’re unlucky. I haven’t got any pictures I’m afraid, but I’ve been stung a few times having unwittingly stood on a nest in a friend’s garden. I could certainly feel it, but it was nothing like a wasp sting. Speaking of which…

European Wasps

Australia, as everyone knows, is full of the most deadly spiders, snakes, jellyfish, crocodiles, sharks and hordes of other evil creatures just itching to sting or bite you. However, if you ask anyone around here what animals they’re afraid of, there’s a pretty high chance that European wasps will be right up there. That’s just ‘wasps’ to me and any European readers. Somehow they’ve managed to acquire an outsized reputation, as shown by the sign below:

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Just for comparison, I have never seen a warning sign for redbacks! While it’s easy to make fun of this, it’s actually pretty sensible – far more people have died from allergic reactions to wasp and bee stings here than have from spider bites etc.

Giant Clam

Here’s a fun one to round out my somewhat random list – and easily the largest here, although not quite the largest invertebrate in the world (colossal squid if you need to know). It was a bit of a thrill to really see giant clams on the Great Barrier Reef – they are huge and startlingly iridescent inside. I think part of it must have been reading Willard Price books when I was young though – I think probably South Sea Adventure. Anyway in one of them a diver gets their foot trapped in a giant clam and drowns – a terrible way to go. It seems that this (like a few other things I remember from those adventures) may well have been a figment of Mr Price’s imagination, although there was no way I was putting any of my limbs in there!

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Crimson rosellas & king parrots

It’s a parroty mega-mix today! I’ve already covered rainbow lorikeets, and these two are the other main parrots we see around here – I’m counting cockatoos separately. They all look fantastic although in different ways, and behave similarly.

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Crimson rosellas are slightly larger than rainbow lorikeets, and are definitely pretty crimson with lovely blue and black wings and tail – although they can come in lots of different colour variations. They’re very common if you head up into the hills a bit, for example around the Dandenongs, but we also see them around the house fairly often. We do get eastern rosellas around here too, but we don’t see them as much and I’ve never managed to get a photo of one.

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There are lots of other types and sub-species of parrots, and just to make it more confusing the males, females and young can all look quite different. Here’s a juvenile, looking really rather green and only a bit crimson:

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Parrots can get very tame and accustomed to humans – people often put seed out in touristy places, and they will quite happily crawl all over you and your picnic looking for anything to eat. If you want to have a parrot climbing on your shoulder, or get close-up pictures like these try Grants picnic ground in the Dandenongs, or down on Wilson’s Prom.

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King parrots are rather less common than crimson rosellas, but are a fair bit larger (although not as big as cockatoos). While they don’t have the riot of colour that the rosellas and lorikeets have, they make up for it with the sheer vibrancy of their beautiful red and green hues:

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They’re almost always in pairs or sometimes a family group of three. Males have red heads, and females green:

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They zoom around, flying very low and flit into trees, where they will climb about and chitter away, looking at whatever’s going on. I was fitting a new tyre on my mountain bike out the back the other day and a pair came to investigate. They climbed around our garden chairs and a tree in the back, less than 2m away from me, just looking at what I was up to.

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All parrots look amazing with their exotic colours. Birds in Australia are a lot less scared of people than they are in the UK – there are far fewer predators and it’s great to be able to get so much closer to them.

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Pelicans

Pelicans are fairly common across Australia, especially near wetlands or estuaries as well as lakes. They often congregate around boat ramps waiting for any leftovers from fishers. Fishing is huge in Australia, and anywhere there’s even the smallest seaside town there will always be a ramp and some people ready to take their boats out. There’s a reasonable chance there’ll be group of pelicans hanging around like these were in Mallacoota, just waiting for any scraps of fish. Incidentally Mallacoota has four boat ramps to serve a population of 972 – I told you fishing was big here!

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There are a number of types of pelican around the world, and unsurprisingly we get the Australian pelican here. They’re white with black wings and a pale pink bill. Pelicans are all big birds, and the Australians are one are the largest (must be all those fish!) although not quite the heaviest. They really are big though – up to 1.8m long with a wingspan of 2.5m, which is heading towards the same league as Andean condors (3.3m) and albatross (3.5m). Like these other giants of the avian world, they are superb fliers with incredible gliding skills, often swooping low over the sea with just one wingtip touching the water.

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Sometimes they fly solo, and sometimes in small flocks. Occasionally huge flocks of well over 1,000 can congregate, particularly if a new source of food is found although I’ve never seen this. Apparently when Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre filled in 1974-1976 almost the entire coastal population of pelicans descended on it, only leaving when it dried up again. I quite often see them flying over the Princes Freeway on my way to Geelong as I go past the wetlands around Point Cooke and Werribee. When they’re flying they also use their long necks to tuck their heads back in a very distinctive pose, like these flying over Point Nepean down on the Mornington Peninsula:

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The one area that the Australian pelican is a true world-beater is in the size of its bill, even when compared to other pelicans (no jokes please!). They are truly huge, getting up to 50cm long, along with their pouch which can hold up to 13 litres of liquid. If you see a pelican in the pub don’t offer to buy it a drink!

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So with that it’s goodnight from pelicans – these are getting ready to roost on the Cairns waterfront. Mind out for crocs!

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Emus

We haven’t met many emus – although they’re common enough and certainly big enough to be easily spotted, they tend to hang out in less populated areas. We saw tracks on Portland sand dunes when we went driving down there:

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There’s a stuffed one propping up the life-size Australian coat of arms in Melbourne museum:

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But we had never seen the birds themselves in the wild until we got down to Wilson’s Prom. They’re big birds – up to nearly 2m tall, making them the second biggest birds in the world after ostriches, and similar to both them (and cassowaries) in a number of ways. Their long legs mean they can run fast, up to 50km/h which is a bit faster than Usain Bolt’s top speed – but emus can keep it up for a lot longer than he can.

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When you get up close – and you can, they’re not scared of people for fairly obvious reasons – you can see they look pretty insane. Their feathers diminish up around their head, and what’s left is pretty straggly, looking like they’ve just been in a fight. On top of that they have large orange eyes that stare balefully at you in an unnerving manner. I got pretty close to some at Wilson’s Prom, but I was never going to pat one like I would a wombat!

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Female emus will fight over males, and then often proceed to leave dad to hatch the eggs and look after the chicks while they find another mate. Their eggs are predictably massive, 13cm long and usually dark green, and laid in large nests on the ground.

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Way back in the 1930s emus became a problem for farmers out in Western Australia, and eventually a military operation was launched to cull them. This rapidly became known as the emu war, and started with a blaze of triumphant publicity. However perhaps fairly predictably it rapidly became clear that the emus were a more resilient opponent than anticipated. The soldiers tried mounting machine guns on their trucks, but the emus would scatter and could easily outrun the trucks on the rough ground, meaning they never even fired a shot. Eventually 986 emus were officially killed, at the cost of 9,860 rounds of ammunition and a significant amount of pride. To this day the Australian army remain unique, not only in engaging war on emus, but losing to boot. You might have thought that this would send a resounding lesson through the decades of the futility of entering ridiculous wars, but it appears not. The great emu war doesn’t even feature on these lists

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This one’s walking along a track at sundown on Wilson’s Prom. It truly is beautiful down there:

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And here’s one looking somewhat psychotically at me, which brings us on to…

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I am a child of the seventies, so of course for me an emu can only ever really refer to the bird that Rod Hull had under his arm. Although all the real emus I’ve met have been very chilled, I do suspect that under their calm exterior lies a heart of pure unadulterated anarchy. Rod Hull eventually came to resent his insane creation, feeling it was preventing him developing his career in other avenues. Tragically he died in bizarre circumstances – falling off the roof of his house while adjusting the TV aerial so he could watch the football. But I think everyone who heard this on the news must have wondered, like I did, who was holding the ladder?

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Redbacks

OK, here it is – one of the most renowned beasties in the whole continent – the dreaded redback spider. The picture above is quintessentially Australian, showing one sitting on top of a Sherrin AFL ball in our garden – that’s Aussie rules to my UK readers, which is universally known as football here, or more usually just footie. This video shows some of the key differences between the two codes. Back to redbacks – yes, this is the infamous spider that lurked under the toilet seat and bit Slim Newton’s bum. They’re pretty much the same thing as the American black widow, the New Zealand katipo and other similar spiders around Southern Europe and the Pacific.

So yes, this is one of only two spiders in the whole of Australia you really do need to be a bit careful of. The other is the Sydney funnel web, but that’s a very localised New South Wales speciality – apparently they occur increasingly frequently in line with the cost of the real estate! The various other Australian spiders can certainly give you a nasty nip, but none are potentially deadly. But how deadly?

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Well, last year in 2016 there was possibly the first fatality in over 60 years. It’s not clear whether the bite itself was fatal or not – in this sad case there were other issues as well – but it certainly didn’t help. This would be the first fatality since antivenom was introduced 50 years ago, although there are some questions about the efficacy of the that. But given that 2,000-10,000 people are estimated to be bitten each year, you’re far more likely to survive than not. Here’s a great account of being bitten by the inimitable Bob in Oz – and if that’s not enough, do read his comments where there are hundreds more experiences.

Bob’s tale illustrates several typical issues with spider bites – firstly he’s not certain it was a redback, although it does seem pretty likely. This happens a lot with bites and stings of any kind, whether from snakes, spiders or anything else – positive identification of the culprit is often tricky. Unlike, say, crocodiles! When I started looking into spider bites I was amazed to find how little is known about exactly which spiders do what damage – for example white tails have a nasty reputation but may be in the clear.

Secondly he got bitten in a classic way – having his hands somewhere he couldn’t see them. Don’t stick your fingers in any holes you find in Australia! Historically many people were bitten on the genitalia, due to outside toilets being ideal homes for redbacks. Happily since the general demise of the outdoors dunny this is not so common – but not entirely unknown!

Finally he didn’t die, or indeed go to hospital although he did sensibly seek medical advice. You should definitely take care though, and especially with children or anyone who isn’t quite 100%. Trust professional medical advice, and not something you found on the internet (even this blog!).

So where do you find redbacks? They’re not uncommon pretty much anywhere across Australia, and they like dry, dark and sheltered sites. Garden sheds, mailboxes or underneath barbecues are ideal redback habitats. We used to keep various sports balls in an old esky outside, but after we found the second redback in there we decided it probably wasn’t the best place to keep them. Here’s one from that esky – slightly brown this time, but definitely a redback on another AFL ball:

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When I say ‘not uncommon’ I actually mean comparatively unusual. We’ve probably seen about 10 in the three years we’ve been here. This has almost always been outside – I found one indoors once, but it was by a brush that I’d just used to clear a lot of cobwebs off the windows, and I strongly suspect I brought it back in on the brush. Elliot’s seen a couple at school, where the teachers invariably squash them – much to Elliot’s concern.

Originally when I started planning this post I didn’t have many pictures of redbacks, so I went out to try to find one (the things I do for you, dear readers). I put some gardening gloves on, and poked around the garage and garden. Eventually I found this fellow under a log:

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I thought this was a redback with slightly different colouring (ie no red back!) – it was the same size, shape and that distinctive glossy black. As you can see they’re not huge – the dollar shown here is a very similar size to a pound coin or a euro. However on investigation it seems that this was actually a cupboard spider – certainly similar, but nowhere near as dangerous as the redback. So even when you go looking for them you can’t always find them.

Our local football (soccer) team are called the Eltham Redbacks, and it is widely used for a variety of sport and company names across Australia. There’s even a redback beer, although I haven’t tried it. I think many Australians are actually quite proud of their deadlier native companions.

Just check under that toilet seat next time you go…

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Three year round-up

We’ve nearly been in Australia for three years – the anniversary of our arrival is on 27 August – and last weekend we finally saw a platypus in the wild. This is the last of the more famous Australian animals that we hadn’t seen in the wild, and so it’s a landmark of sorts. The irony is that it was only round the corner – it’s just that platypus are shy brown creatures that live in a large muddy river, and as ever knowing when and where to look made all the difference. In my defence it was at Wombat Bend, which is probably not the most obvious place you’d choose to look for platypus. The picture at the top shows Ginny and Felix on the suspension bridge there waiting to spot one.

Platypus, of course, deserve a complete blog post to themselves which I will do later, perhaps when I have some better photos. In the one shot I managed to get you can clearly make out that it is a platypus, but it’s not exactly wildlife photographer of the year material.

It’s winter here now, so there aren’t quite as many animals around and the weather isn’t quite as conducive to getting out and finding them. The picture below is the archetypal Australian corrugated roof, on part of the Yarra Valley Dairy (yum!) during a bit of a storm. You certainly know about the rain if you’re underneath a roof like that!

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So given it’s winter and now we’ve hit our platypus milestone I thought it would be a good point to have a bit of a review of those crazy Aussie animals. I’ll arrange it by location, and then how likely you are to see the various creatures.

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Outside our front door

Immediately around us you’ll mostly see birds. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see cockatoos and magpies – there are some very large ones around at the moment (see above), as well as noisy miners. Kookaburras are pretty common – they do their rounds in family groups cackling away at dawn and dusk on dead branches (or tv aerials). Also common are rainbow lorikeets and crimson rosellas plus various smaller cockatoos such as corellas and galahs.

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If you walk up to Aqueduct trail (above) you’ll see plenty of kangaroos, particularly at dawn or dusk. If you’re lucky you might see a wedge-tailed eagle or two – if you see a big (really big!) bird of prey in the sky that would be them. You’re more likely to hear a possum than see one – if you hear a herd of elephants sprinting across the roof that’s them – but if you go out with a torch at night you’ve got a good chance of seeing one in a tree.

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If you go poking around in the shed you might find a huntsman or redback spider, but you probably won’t. Similarly there are certainly tiger snakes around, but you’re very unlikely to see one. If you’re lucky you might see a flock of black cockatoos come through, or a pair of king parrots.

Around Eltham

Down at Westerfolds Park and around are plenty of wombats and echidnas, as well as the ubiquitous kangaroos – Felix and I saw two boomers having a proper scrap last Saturday during parkrun. Wombats and echidnas hang out in the parks and reserves by the Yarra, both upstream to Candlebark Park, Petty’s Orchards, Laughing Waters, Warrandyte and beyond, or downstream to Finn’s Reserve, Banyule Flats and so on. However we have never (yet) seen a wombat here – they tend to be properly nocturnal which is not usually when you go to parks. They leave behind plenty of evidence though! Echidnas are around – I have seen one trundling across our drive, but many more down in the parks, but they’re not that common and you need to be lucky.

There are tawny frogmouths around, but your chances of seeing one are slim – their camouflage is superb, but if you keep looking up into gum trees you might be lucky.

Lastly if you go to the suspension bridge at Wombat Bend in Finn’s Reserve and are patient you have a very good chance of seeing a platypus. You do need to be patient though – Felix and I saw one almost immediately, but the next wasn’t spotted for nearly an hour. I know people who have seen them in Diamond Creek near Eltham High School, but they were pretty lucky.

Below is the TarraWarra winery in late autumn, looking towards the Yarra ranges on a stormy day that still had a few patches of sun. There are definitely worse places in the world to be – and the wine’s pretty good too!

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Elsewhere in Victoria

Let’s start with the big one on everyone’s list, koalas. There used to be some around Pound Bend in Warrandyte, but apparently they died out in the Millennium drought. So the place to go is down the Great Ocean Road to Cape Otway – you’ll definitely see them down there – the easiest way to find them is to find a group of people standing by the car looking up!

You can see little penguins down on St Kilda pier in the city, but there aren’t very many. The penguin parade down at Phillip Island is quite impressive if you’re fond of them, but is very commercialised and not cheap. There are various other types of sea-life you can see from the shore or boat trips, especially seals and dolphins. If you get out in the sticks a bit you may well see sea eagles, ibis and pelicans too.

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Above is a track up on Mount Macedon on a cloudy day in winter. If you head up into the ranges (also Healesville, the Dandenongs or Toolangi and many others) you might see lyrebirds, fairy wrens and goannas as well as plenty of parrots and kookaburras.

We’ve seen lots of emus and wombats down at Wilson’s Prom, but I don’t know anywhere else you will see them reliably. Almost all the animals down there are semi-tame, and it really is a beautiful spot.

Lastly you probably don’t want to see a drop bear, but if you must then the more remote areas of bush are where they hang out. Try Toolangi or the far end of Kinglake and don’t forget the Vegemite.

Other states

There are some tropical-only animals that you simply won’t find in Victoria because it’s just too cold. Crocodiles are plentiful nowadays, but do take a guided boat trip, don’t go looking by yourself! Cassowaries are pretty rare – there are estimated to be about 1,000 in Australia, all up in the tropical rainforests of the far north. If you’re desperate to see big pythons (everything grows bigger up north!) they’re up here too.

Humpback whales do come through Victorian waters, but you’re more likely to see them further round on the east coast as they migrate north in late autumn and south in spring. Similarly there are some dingoes in Victoria, but you’re much more likely to see them in other more northerly states. We’ve seen them on Fraser Island – as is so often the case dawn and dusk are the best times.

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Flower break – I know proteas (above) are South African rather than Australian, but they’re grown around here and still look impossibly exotic to my UK eye.

Last, and most definitely not least are a couple of Tasmanian specialities. Sadly thylacines are no more, but there are stuffed ones in Hobart museums. There are probably some in other state museums, but I’m not sure. And finally there are, of course, Tasmanian devils. Oops! I’ve just realised we haven’t seen one of those in the wild yet! We’ve heard them at night, but I think we’d better get planning our next trip down there to finish what we started…

I shall leave you with a picture of a kangaroo looking silly, because why not?

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Humpback Whales

I’d never seen a whale before we came to Australia – although various species do come into UK waters there aren’t many opportunities to see them. However there are lots around Australia – in particular humpback whales as they migrate up both east and west coasts from the Antarctic to the tropics to breed, and then go back again – up to 25,000km in a year (that’s an average of 68km a day!). I’ve only seen humpbacks, but you also get right whales and blue whales down on the south coast. As is so often the case with wildlife spotting it’s all about being in the right place at the right time (and looking the right way!) – but the internet can really help with this.

You could write books and books about whales (and of course many people have), from the science of their fascinating natural lives through to the complex interactions with humans, who did their best to wipe them out but happily seem to be largely trying to get along nowadays. I’m not going to try to cover this vast range of information, but instead say a few things about humpbacks, and try to dig out some interesting facts you might not know.

My first whale watching trip was from Hervey Bay up near Fraser Island. It’s a great place to go whale watching – nice and warm, and Fraser makes a good backdrop:

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Anyway, before we got to that tail, and as we set off excitement was pretty high as you might imagine. The first whales were spotted by the captain, and he moved the boat towards them. There are pretty strict regulations about how close you can get to whales and dolphins, and from what I’ve seen these are well respected, but humpbacks are curious creatures and will often come over and investigate boats. So I was well chuffed to look down and see my first whale just sitting there, right underneath the boat:

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After clicking away from different angles and marvelling at my luck, I eventually started to wonder why the whale was quite so still, and finally realised I’d been taking pictures of the protruding keel of the boat. Doh!

Another time we really did get one swimming right under the boat – here it is approaching:

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…and then it briefly surfaced before diving. I’d always thought whales’ blow holes were just that – a single hole – but as you can clearly see here it’s much more like a backwards-facing nose. However unlike our noses whales can close theirs when diving.

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Let’s take a step back though. Humpbacks are large whales – they get up to 16m long and 36 tonnes, although the biggest blue whales probably get up to 30m and over 180 tonnes. It’s difficult to compare with dinosaurs, as fossils of the largest sauropods are fragmentary, but argentinosaurus has been estimated at 40m long and 95 tonnes. The largest tyrannosaurus (called Sue) was 12.3m long, and up to 14 tonnes. So even though humpbacks aren’t quite in the very top echelons of big beasts, they’re definitely in the megafauna premier league and substantially larger than any terrestrial animals.

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How do they get that big? They eat a lot of krill, about 2-2.5 tonnes a day during the feeding season – they fast on the way up and back from the tropics. When I was younger I assumed that zooplankton (which includes krill and many other little beasties) was pretty tiny – microscopic to a few mm. Actually krill are typically up to 2cm long, and some species are up to 15cm, which is small prawn-size in my book. Humpbacks will also eat small fish, such as juvenile salmon or herring etc. And humpbacks are not shy about doing this, either – they charge into schools of fish and take great gulps of water. They can gulp up to 19,000 litres at a time, so don’t ever offer to buy a whale a drink! This balloons out their flexible cheeks and then they use their baleen to filter out the water and keep the fish. Sometimes they get together and blow rings of bubbles to surround fish, and then swim up the middle to scoff them all.

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It’s estimated that there are about 379,000,000 tonnes of krill in the Antarctic, which is a fair bit more than the estimated total human biomass of 350M tonnes. In fact it’s thought to be one of the highest biomasses of any single species – domestic cattle beat it at 520M tonnes, and surprisingly earthworms come in at up to 7,600M tonnes. That’s an awful lot of worms! Anyway it’s certainly plenty of krill for the whales – there are an estimated 50,000 humpbacks in the southern hemisphere, and another 30,000 in the northern (the pre-whaling estimate is 125,000, and hopefully we might regain that one day).

 

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Humpbacks are sociable creatures, and communicate in a number of ways including singing. Their songs can be up to 30 minutes long, but we don’t know the exact purpose. I like to think that maybe they just enjoy it. They also breach (jump up out of the water) – I’ve seen this once, but completely failed to get a picture of it – however many others have. If you’re on a boat next to one doing this you are going to get seriously wet! Humpbacks also like to slap the water with their tails, and I’ve got plenty of pictures of this. Again, this seems to be for communication of some sort, but no-one knows what yet. However because of the significant energy expended in both breaching and tail-slapping it’s thought it must mean something – they can’t just be having fun, can they?

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All humpbacks have unique tails, and the pattern of notches, angles, scars and barnacles etc means you can use this to identify them. That’s particularly useful as it’s easier to get a picture of the tail than many other parts of them! I’m afraid I have no idea if the whale above has been identified – unfortunately it seems that people are still better than computers at matching tails, and it’s a really boring job!

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To finish with I’ll share my closest encounter with a whale. We stopped off for a couple of days at Noosa on the way back from Fraser Island – it’s a nice place, a little commercialised but not unpleasantly so. But because it’s a bit commercialised that means powered water fun, and Felix was desperate to have a go on a jet ski. Can’t say I found the idea unappealing either, although it’s definitely not Elliot or Ginny’s thing. So Felix and I hired one and off we went, through the lagoon and then out to the sea. We knew there were whales around and were keeping our eyes open, but hadn’t spotted any. Felix was driving the jet ski around, and tried doing doughnuts, spinning it around. I was on the back, and as it went around and around in tighter circles it leaned more and more. Eventually it leaned so much I couldn’t hang on and fell off the side, whereupon the jet ski straightened up and Felix powered off, cackling with glee. What neither of us had realised was there was a huge humpback swimming very close to us. Felix slowed down and I swam over to him, and we saw the whale briefly surface before it cruised off. I dined out on the story of my own son dumping me in front of a whale for ages…

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