Rare southern right whale calf watching an exciting start to the New South Wales South Coast whale watching season

The sighting of a southern right whale and her calf along the NSW south coast has excited locals, photographers and marine experts as the region’s whale watching season kicks off .

August marks the time of year when some whales were still heading north as part of their annual migration on Australia’s east coast, while others were heading south.

During this encounter, there was the unique sighting of what appeared to be a white southern right whale calf.

“Any white animal, as we have seen with Migaloo, attracts the attention of many people in Australia and indeed the world,” said wildlife expert Dr Vanessa Pirotta.

“A small percentage of southern right whales are born very white, and in that case that animal is known as the gray morph.

“Unfortunately, it is unlikely to remain white throughout its life and will most likely become darker in adulthood.”

Southern right whales reproduce more slowly than other species, so sighting a calf is a rare event.(Provided: Peter Harris)

The southern right whale reproduced at a slower rate than the humpback whale and was vulnerable to a number of threats in the post-hunting era, including entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, noise pollution and even killer whales.

Dr Pirotta said that while the calf’s current ‘salty and peppery’ appearance would not remain, its existence had supported much work to ensure the survival of the species.

a white whale calf swimming in the water
Whale-watching season doesn’t usually start until mid-August on the New South Wales south coast, but this calf is proof that the mammals arrived early.(Provided: Peter Harris)

“It’s also an opportunity to see other species like the southern right whale which unfortunately isn’t recovering as well as the humpback whale population,” said Dr Pirotta.

“When we see one, it’s of great significance because any contribution or addition to the Southern Right Whale population is special to all of us.”

The moving pods

Mid-August usually marked the start of whale-watching season on the New South Wales south coast, but cruise lines organized early excursions off the coasts of Bermagui, Merimbula and Eden.

a whale jumping out of the ocean
Humpback whales are generally more “acrobatic” and “energetic”, according to Millar.(Provided: Sapphire Coastal Adventures)

“We’ve had a big flow of whales heading south for a few weeks now,” said Simon Millar, director of Sapphire Coastal Adventures.

“We didn’t usually start until the end of August… [but] we had several pods off Merimbula.

“Looks like it’s going to be an amazing season.”

Last year’s whale-watching season was thwarted by COVID-19 restrictions, and this year tour operators hoped to make an unbroken comeback.

Mr Millar also found the sighting of the southern right whale and its unique white calf, after not spotting the species in three years.

“Southern right whales are generally not as energetic or acrobatic on the surface as humpback whales,” he said.

“We tend to see more humpback whales even when the southern rights are there, but it was still great to see that newborn calf.”

a man and a woman are sitting on the railing of their boat with their dog sitting in front of them
Mr Millar and his wife Jessica had not seen a southern right whale for three years before spotting the white calf.(Provided: David Rogers Photography)

The sighting took place before the Walawaani Muriyira-Waraga Bermagui Whale event on August 13, which marked the official opening of the 2022 season.

The event would celebrate the cultural significance of the annual migration to the local Yuin people and feature an ocean paddle to welcome the whales.

a big whale in the water next to a small white whale
The southern right whale and her white calf traveling along the south coast of New South Wales.(Provided: Richard Gonzalez, Insta @ the.shot.father)

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