How many cetacean species are there in Australia waters?
There are currently around 44 recorded species found in the
waters off Australia, 35 of these are toothed whales and 9 are
Baleen Whales. The number of cetacean species recognised
worldwide and in Australia is constantly changing with ongoing
studies and research.
Species found in Australia include:
Toothed Whales - 19 species are from the family
Delphinidae (including Dolphins, Pilot Whales and Killer
Whales) and 12 are from the family Ziphiidae (Beaked
Whales). Also included are the Pygmy Sperm Whale, Dwarf Sperm
Whale, Sperm Whale and Spectacled Porpoise.
Baleen Whales - Southern Right Whale, Pygmy Right Whale,
and seven species of Rorquals.
How to identify a whale or dolphin?
Trying to identify cetaceans out at sea is often
challenging, as most species when sighted only appear for a
short period and with only a small part of them visible at any
one time. In addition, some species are difficult to tell apart
without a thorough detailed examination. However, certain
features and circumstances will assist in identifying cetaceans:
- Length of the animal
- Colouration, including any distinctive markings
- Is there a dorsal fin, its position, shape
- Shape of the head (type of snout, if any)
- Tail fluke shape and markings
- Characteristics of the blow (ie shape, height)
- Distinctive behaviour (such as breaching, spinning)
- If in a group, the number of animals present
- Type of habitat sighted in (ie coastal, river, deep ocean)
- Geographic location
Why do whales breach?
When a cetacean launches itself into the air, head first and
then lands back in the water with a splash, this is known as
breaching. Most species are known to breach at some time. Some
species breach many times in a row and Humpbacks, renowned for
breaching, may do so hundreds of times in a single bout.
The exact function of breaching is not known, although a
explanations have been suggested including signalling, courtship
display, a means of herding fish, displaying strength,
dislodging parasites, getting a better look at boats or just for the fun of it.
Where and when can I see Whales?