September 2019 Whale Watching Highlights
Sometimes monthly sightings can vary greatly between years whilst others can be very similar and September 2019 is one of those months! Reading back on September 2018’s sightings report, our sightings for this past month are eerily similar. In fact, we could just copy and paste what we wrote (but we won’t!).
The month started off with some mysterious whale sightings. Crew caught glimpses of a small baleen whale on a couple of trips. The species was not able to be identified but acted very similarly to unidentified whales we have seen in the past. From our knowledge, we know that Antarctic minke whales do visit the area around this time of year as they migrate southwards and they can be boat shy. Just like last year, we also had reports from fellow researchers that minke whales had been spotted in the wider Hauraki Gulf Marine Park during the same week.
Staying on the baleen whale sightings, we had numerous days watching the resident Bryde’s whales feeding on the plankton rich waters. Often we will see individuals displaying a ‘head-slapping’ behaviour during this feeding. This behaviour in Bryde’s whales is only seen here in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park and nowhere else in the world! The head-slapping has been shown to create vortexes and mini currents to draw more plankton into a smaller area. This is beneficial for the whale when it lunges through the area with its mouth open.
We hadn’t seen the pygmy blue whales in a while and thought they had probably moved on from the area, so you can imagine our excitement when we came across them again! Some afternoons were spent watching them lunge feed in the same plankton-rich waters that the Bryde’s whales were feeding in. Lucky passengers on one trip at the end of the month had a blue whale that just could not stop showing its flukes (tail) when it dove!
Not to be left out, we also had some great encounters with bottlenose dolphins who are still hanging out the inner Hauraki Gulf for winter and the common dolphins. On a couple of occasions, we had common dolphin superpods of up to 1,000 travelling alongside us! When you get large groups like this, there will often be several sub-groups within it doing their own behaviours. During one of the encounters, one subgroup peeled off to feed whilst other groups were seen travelling and socialising.
For the third month in a row, we also saw New Zealand fur seals (who are also a marine mammal) including these two hanging out with each other right next to a blue whale! There has been plenty of action for the start of Spring as we also saw plenty of kahawai and seabirds feeding at the water’s surface.