Flukes, fins, lobtails and lunges: get ready to count whales

The humpback and dolphins spotted playing off Lighthouse Beach. Photo: Alex McNaught.

STUNNING drone shots of a humpback whale playing with a pod of dolphins off Lighthouse Beach are the perfect reminder to get involved in this Sunday’s 25th ORRCA Census Day.

Professional photographer Alex McNaught regularly shares a selection of his work with the community but even he was amazed by Monday’s scenes.

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“Flat out got the best and longest whale-dolphin interaction sequence to date,” he shared.

He backed these up with a mother and calf cruising north and a soon-to-be mother exhibiting “pre-birth behaviour”.

ORRCA volunteers will be counting whales from dawn to dusk on June 30, with the results to be used for research and to compare migration numbers from year to year.

The nearest official ORRCA Census site is Tacking Point but people will be joining the count from any number of headlands, including Perpendicular Point.

The annual migration is one of the longest in the world, so there is plenty of time for whale-play.

ORRCA, which is the Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia, says normal behaviour is sometimes confused with signs of distress.

It has produced the following tips to help people tell the difference.

Pectoral Fin Slapping: This is not considered an aggressive action and may be a way of communication (or flirting) with another whale. A humpback can also glide along with their pectoral fin in the air.

Tail (Fluke) Slapping: Also known as Lobtailing. This can be an aggressive action to ward off males or other prey. It can also be a way of communicating. Another hypothesis is that the whale is foraging, with the loud action of the fin hitting the water forcing fish into a tighter school, which makes for a bigger meal. Mothers are also known to invert with their Fluke out of the water when feeding a calf. They can do this for extended periods.

Head lunges: This is when the whale lunges forward with its head out of the water. It is considered a competitive display by males trying to win the attention of a female. A humpback can do several head lunges in a row.

Spy Hopping: This is when the whale raises its head out of the water. It can be a visual aid or just the whale being inquisitive near boats.

Breaching: This is when a whale launches around two-thirds of its body out of the water. Scientists believe this is a method of communication, a way of claiming territory, to assist in hunting and visual observation, and for removing parasites from their bodies.


The humpback and dolphins spotted playing off Lighthouse Beach. Photo: Alex McNaught.

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