Humpback whale

The humpback whales that are born in, and migrate along, waters off the east coast of Australia form part of the Group E breeding stock. These whales generally feed in Area V in Antarctica and migrate along the eastern Australian coast to the GBR to mate and give birth. This population was severely depleted to a few hundred individuals or less by commercial whaling opera-

Table 30.1 List of marine mammals that are known or considered likely to occur in the Great Barrier Reef region from GBRMPA (2000). Generic distributional data from Bryden et al. (1998) and Steve Van Dyck, Queensland Museum.

Scientific name

Common name

Relevant generic habitat requirements

Known habitats in the Great Barrier Reef region

Order Cetacea, Suborder Mysticeti, Baleen whales

Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Dwarf minke whale*

Probably throughout region in winter

Swain Reefs to Cape Grenville; especially between Lizard Island and Ribbon Reef No. 10, between March and October, particularly June-July. See Fig. 30.3C

Balaenoptera bonearensis

Antarctic minke whale*

Possibly throughout region in winter

More likely in south of region; most northerly sighting inside Ribbon Reef No. 5 but much less common in north than dwarf minke.

Balaenoptera edeni

Bryde's whale**

Throughout region all year; may be seen close to coast

Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale*

Oceanic possibly throughout region in winter

See Fig. 30.3,4

Balaenoptera physalus

Fin whale

Oceanic; possibly in southern parts of region in winter

See Fig. 30.34

Megaptera novaeangliae

Humpback whale*

Coastal and island waters in winter and spring; breeding grounds between about 15° and 20°S

Especially Whitsunday and Mackay regions in winter; seen at northern end of the Great Barrier Reef (10°30'S) between October and January, possibly all year. See Fig. 30.34

Order Cetacea, Suborder Odontoceti Toothed Whales and Dolphins

Delphinus delphis

Short-beaked common dolphin**

Pelagic and neritic waters throughout region

See Fig. 30.3D

Feresa attenuata

Pygmy killer whale**

Possibly throughout region

See Fig. 30.3B

Globicephala macrorhynchus

Short-finned pilot whale*

Possibly throughout region in open ocean and continental shelf waters

See Fig. 30.3C

Grampus griseus

Risso's dolphin*

Possibly throughout region both inshore and offshore

Indopacetus pacificus

Longman's beaked whale*

Possibly beyond continental shelf throughout region

Confirmed standing in Mackay region

(continued)

(continued)

Table 30.1 (continued)

Scientific name

Common name

Relevant generic habitat requirements

Known habitats in the Great Barrier Reef region

Order Cetacea, Suborder Mysticeti, Baleen whales

Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Dwarf minke whale*

Probably throughout region in winter

Swain Reefs to Cape Grenville; especially between Lizard Island and Ribbon Reef No. 10, between March and October, particularly June-July. See Fig. 30.3C

Balaenoptera bonearensis

Antarctic minke whale*

Possibly throughout region in winter

More likely in south of region; most northerly sighting inside Ribbon Reef No. 5 but much less common in north than dwarf minke.

Balaenoptera edeni

Bryde's whale**

Throughout region all year; may be seen close to coast

Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale*

Oceanic possibly throughout region in winter

See Fig. 30.3A

Balaenoptera physalus

Fin whale

Oceanic; possibly in southern parts of region in winter

See Fig. 30.3A

Megaptera novaeangliae

Humpback whale*

Coastal and island waters in winter and spring; breeding grounds between about 15° and 20°S

Especially Whitsunday and Mackay regions in winter; seen at northern end of the Great Barrier Reef (10°30'S) between October and January, possibly all year. See Fig. 30.3A

Order Cetacea, Suborder Odontoceti Toothed Whales and Dolphins

Delphinus delphis

Short-beaked common dolphin**

Pelagic and neritic waters throughout region

See Fig. 30.3D

Feresa attenuata

Pygmy killer whale**

Possibly throughout region

See Fig. 30.3B

Globicephala macrorhynchus

Short-finned pilot whale*

Possibly throughout region in open ocean and continental shelf waters

See Fig. 30.3C

Grampus griseus

Risso's dolphin*

Possibly throughout region both inshore and offshore

Indopacetus pacificus

Longman's beaked whale*

Possibly beyond continental shelf throughout region

Confirmed standing in Mackay region

Order Cetacea, Suborder Odontoceti Toothed Whales and Dolphins

Kogia breviceps

Pygmy sperm whale**

Possibly throughout region in oceanic waters

(continued)

Table 30.1 (continued)

Scientific name

Common name

Relevant generic habitat requirements

Known habitats in the Great Barrier Reef region

Stenella longirostris

Spinner dolphin*

Throughout region, primarily pelagic but nearshore in some regions particularly around islands

See Fig. 30.3D

Steno bredanensis

Rough-toothed dolphin

Possibly throughout region, usually far offshore

See Fig. 30.3D

Tursiops spp.

Bottlenose dolphin*

Widely distributed in both coastal (T. aduncus) and pelagic waters (generally T. truncatus)

Seen in coastal waters particularly near rocky headlands and offshore waters. See Fig. 30.3D

Ziphius cavirostris

Cuvier's beaked whale*

Possibly throughout region

Order Sirenia, Family Dugongidae, sea cows

Dugong dugon

Dugong*

Coastal and island waters throughout region, especially seagrass meadows

Especially in protected bays, offshore in northern GBR region in summer. See Fig. 30.3B

*confirmed from GBR region from strandings; +confirmed for GBR region from sightings only;

"confirmed from Queensland south of GBR from strandings; Long-fined pilot whale Globicephala melas and Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis also confirmed from South-East Queensland from strandings.

*confirmed from GBR region from strandings; +confirmed for GBR region from sightings only;

"confirmed from Queensland south of GBR from strandings; Long-fined pilot whale Globicephala melas and Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis also confirmed from South-East Queensland from strandings.

tions in the 20th century, but has increased rapidly since then. The most recent population estimate (for 2004) is around 7000 animals with a long term rate of increase of between 10-11% annually.

Information about humpback whales on their breeding grounds in the GBR is limited and mostly predates the recent increase in population size. The areas of highest concentrations of humpback whales, and in particular mothers with calves, seem to be around the Whitsunday Islands and the Mackay region but animals with calves are seen at least as far north as Cairns. Whaling records suggest that some humpbacks breed in the reefs to the east of the Coral Sea such as the Chesterfields. Humpbacks have also been sighted in the northern end of the GBR (10°31'S) between October and January, after the end of the main north-south migration. The significance of such sightings is unknown.

Humpback whales are distinguished by their very long flippers that may extend up to a third of their body length. The head, jaws and flippers bear a series of protuberances, the dermal tubercles, which give these parts of the animal a knobbly appearance. The small dorsal fin varies in shape from falcate to slightly rounded. The head is rounder than in the other baleen whales occurring in the GBR region and the general body somewhat stouter. The roundish blow rises to 2-3 m. Humpbacks are often active at the surface and spectacular behaviours such as flipper and tail slaps, spy-hopping and breaching are common.

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