September/October/November are the peak months for the southward migration of humpback whales along the Margaret River coastline. It’s also the time when you’re most likely to see this year’s baby humpbacks, born several weeks earlier in their tropical calving grounds off the Kimberley coast.
Each year humpbacks migrate from the Southern Ocean to their northern breeding grounds. It’s a huge trip – about 12,000 kilometres. During this migration they don’t feed at all yet they have enough energy to calve and mate. Most other animals when they stop eating usually hibernate!
Around September, the baby whales can be seen accompanying their mothers on the return journey to the colder feeding grounds of the Southern Ocean.
The whales travel in small groups separated by distances of 10 -100 kilometres. It takes about 90 days for them all to pass one point. So if you’re in good whale watching territory, you have a window of about 3 months to catch the whales. The young males pass first, followed by older males and females with calves.
At birth a humpback calf is as big as a small car! Yet the relationship between mother and calf is very close and protective. It drinks milk from nipples hidden in its mother’s belly – over 200 litres a day. When the calves are born their lungs are not inflated and the first thing a mother must do is nudge its infant to the surface to gasp its first breath of air. Young calves need to surface frequently for fresh air but by adulthood they’ll be able to stay down as long as 45 minutes.
Females calve about every 2-3 years, mostly in places around latitude 20 degrees. (Some non-breeding females don’t bother to make the full migration to warmer water every year). On the return journey mothers and calves travel slowly, often resting for a while in protected areas such as Geographe Bay and Margaret River / Augusta, one of Australia’s best known whale watching spots. The calves need to grow quickly and develop a thick layer of blubber for protection in the cold Antarctic water.
Margaret River Discovery Tours
Sean Blocksidge is the owner operator of the Margaret River Discovery Company, an avid photographer, blogger and South West WA ambassador. In 2010 he won Western Australian Guide of the Year and his tours have been rated the #1 thing to do in Australia on the Tripadvisor website for the past two years.