Whale makes a splash in Loch Sport

A Bryde's whale was spotted in Loch Sport last week. Photo: Rachel Hunter

A SURPRISE visitor greeted Loch Sport last week, with a Bryde’s whale making an appearance in the shallow waters of Ninety Mile Beach.

The waterborne animal was spotted by eagle-eyed resident Rachel Hunter at approximately 7.45am on Wednesday, August 3.

Ms Hunter was fishing at Stockyard Hill Surf Beach when she made the sighting, and has since shared her photos of the whale with the Gippsland Times.

The mammal was also snapped on the Loch Sport Fishing Association’s beach-cam.

Based on photos captured by Ms Hunter and the beach-cam, research officer at the Dolphin Research Institute, David Donnelly has identified the mammal as a Bryde’s (pronounced ‘Broodis’) whale.

“The first thing we can tell from the photo is that it’s a rorqual … that automatically eliminates a whole lot of species,” Mr Donnelly said.

Rorquals are the largest members of the whale family, a group which also includes the Blue Whale.

“The photos show us a tall, erect dorsal fin, combined with a long, sleek animal in a mid-shore environment,” he added.

“Based on observations previously in the region, both dedicated and opportunistic, we know that Bryde’s whales behave like that from time to time, and this animal looks like it could be a Bryde’s whale.

“The other potential whale it could be is a Sei whale, but their behaviour and their ecology tells us they’re more likely to be detected offshore, not in the inshore waters.

“So by process of elimination, we’ve come down to a probability, not a certainty, and we think it’s a Bryde’s whale.”

Mr Donnelly noted that Bryde’s whales are an infrequent sight in the Bass Strait, with only five previous sightings in the Gippsland region.

“If you went to the tropics today and had a look around, you might find Bryde’s whales and Omura’s whales – they’re very similar – and you might find them in real numbers; but when you come down to the south, those sightings become less frequent and certainly less common,” he said.

“If I saw Bryde’s whales in Eden (New South Wales) in September, I’d go, ‘oh yeah, that’s a Bryde’s whale, I know they hang-out here from time to time’.

“But if I saw the same thing in Gippsland, I’d go ‘oh wow, a Bryde’s whale!’

“It’s definitely less frequent in our region … but it’s not unheard of.”

He also stressed the importance of registering whale sightings through the Dolphin Research Institute’s official website.

“We can’t be everywhere all the time, so we rely on general members of the public – which we refer to as citizen scientists – to report what they see so that we can gather that information, put in into a database, and give it context,” Mr Donnelly said.

“So when it comes time to make decisions about … tourism, commercial fisheries, oil and gas exploration, all those sorts of things, we will have a database of information which helps us to make those decisions.”

Although another visit from the Bryde’s whale is unlikely, Mr Donnelly did promise that sightings of other whale species at Ninety Mile Beach were a possibility: “You can expect a few more in the coming months.”

Any and all whale sightings can be made to www.dolphinresearch.org.au/research/report-sightings/