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Reef Report for Friday, July 18, 2003

Humpback Whales Visit Our Reefs

Over the past month we have had many sightings of minke whales, which inhabit our waters this time of year. Now on the move working their way up our east coast are humpback whales. These whales visit our tropical waters between July and August before making there way back to the Antarctic. © Great Barrier Reef Enterprises Humpbacks are mammals, just like us, and exhibit a number of traits common to all mammals, which include being warm-blooded, air-breathing, bearing live young and nursing them with milk.

I recently spoke with Paddy Colwell from ‘Reef Teach’ here in Cairns, who told me that the whales calve every two years and mainly mate in the waters to the South, closer to Brisbane. They visit the far north as a type of “manicure” as Paddy described it. As the whales enter the warmer waters it assists in the removal of all the parasites from their bodies that have attached themselves while in the colder waters.

They communicate by singing and their sounds can travel a long way under water. So don’t panic if you think you can hear them while diving, as you will probably find they are many kilometers away.

Athletic, captivating performances have made the humpback whale a favorite sight for thousands of people who go on whale watching cruises each year. Although we do not have specific whale watching tours operating out of Cairns or Port Douglas you stand a good chance of spotting them over the next two months while traveling out to the reef.

Humpbacks are not considered to be as inquisitive as the minke whales, though it is not uncommon for Humpbacks to breech very close to passing boats or while they are moored. Reef Magic Cruises are the first dive operator to report to me sightings of three Humpback whales this week while traveling to Saxon Reef. So keep a sharp eye out!

Despite the very strong winds experienced this week out on the reef, some great sightings were still reported. On Reef Magic Cruises divers reported seeing a Wobbeygong Shark and numerous stingrays at Saxon Reef along with painted rock lobsters, lionfish, turtles and white tip reef sharks. Then at Michaelmas Cay a Sea Snake was spotted swimming directly under the glass bottom boat while on tour. Guests onboard Poseidon visited Agincourt reef where they too also sighted a wobbeygong shark and a leopard shark.

Undersea Explorer had another thrilling week with many sightings of minke whales. The team onboard Undersea explained that they had seen the whales displaying a range of behavioral traits not usually displayed so openly in their experience. Described as ‘gulping’, the whales would bellow out their lower jaw, spy-hopping and poking their noses out of the water. Also they were bubble blasting and blowing bubbles underwater, as well as one frisky whale breeching 18 times within reach of the boat. Guests on TAKA II, visited Pixies Pinnacle, which is located at the North end of the Ribbon Reefs, and saw huge schools of anthias and fairy basslets, blue streak fusiliers being hunted by giant trevally providing a spectacle for the divers.

Well the current strong winds we have experienced for the past week will remain for the weekend but on all reports you will not be disappointed should you venture to the reef this weekend.

As always, safe diving! Steve Brady

(C) Pro Dive Cairns This weekly reef report was written by Steve Brady of Pro Dive Cairns, who compiles them from the dive trips he takes, as well as the many conversations he has with divers, dive instructors, captains, and others in the Cairns dive community. The report is published weekly in the Cairn Post, the local daily paper and appears here thanks to the courtesy of Pro Dive Cairns.

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