Rare humpback feeding behaviour spotted off NSW

By John Walker 7 November 2013
Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page
Lunge-feeding humpbacks and killer whales have been spotted off the southern coast of NSW.

THE 2010 WHALE WATCHING season at Eden, in southern New South Wales, has begun in spectacular fashion with sightings of many humpback pods and, occasionally, the more predatory, killer whales.

Ros and Gordon Butt of Catt Balou Cruises have been witnessing a unique event each season since the early 1990s. Humpbacks have been observed, early in the season, lunge feeding – where they open the mouths and quickly scoop up their prey, filtering out the sea water with their baleen.

The president of the Pacific Whale Foundation, Greg Kaufman of Hawaii, believes Eden is the only place in the world where humpbacks feed during their migratory journey up or down from Antarctica. In 1994, Greg made his first trip from Hawaii to witness this phenomenon. He has returned most years since, gathering data to better understand these magnificent creatures.

The Butts also assist the science through their photography and observations. Tail markings on each whale are unique, so much time is spent photographing them to help identify and track individuals.

Killer whales spotted

It is believed that the feeding may occur here because this part of the ocean is where  currents of Bass Strait and the East Coast meet, causing an uplift of food. The whales  observed lunge feeding – juveniles and adults – may not actually travel north, but take advantage of this smorgasbord much closer to their Antarctic home.

Also featuring in more significant numbers are the killer whales. Sightings of pods have grown as the humpback numbers have increased.

In 2008, David Donnelly from the Marine Mammal Research Centre, in Melbourne, identified a pod of 25 Antarctic killer whales from a photo sent by Ros Butt. This was the first time they had been photographed in Australia and the second sighting of them in Australian waters ever.

John Walker is a local resident of Eden.

A whale of a time in Sydney Harbour
Whale migration threatened by gas plant
Poo makes whales carbon neutral
Postcards from the AG minke whale expedition