Abstract: There is anecdotal evidence of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeding in southeastern New South Wales (NSW) waters on their southward migration (Paterson, 1987). This paper reports the frequency of feeding whales observed from waters just north of Narooma (36° 5′ S, 149° 55' E) to just south of Eden (37° 16′ S, 150° 17' E). Observations were made from commercial whale-watching vessels from late September to early November in 2002, 2003, and 2005; and from two land-based whale-watching sites, Montague Island (36° 15′ S, 150° 14' E) and Green Cape (37° 16′ S, 150° 03' E), in the same period for 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005. Feeding pods were seen on 24.5% of all whale-watching trips and during 14% of all observations made from land-based sites. Whales fed on schools of small pelagic fish as well as the coastal krill species (Nyctiphanes australis). The number of feeding pods observed in 2005 was more than four times that observed in the two previous years and most likely was due to the warmer current systems operating in the area in 2005. All observations from land-based sites were made when no vessels were in the vicinity of the focal pod. Feeding behaviour did not alter in the presence or absence of vessels; however, the time between feeding lunges increased when the movements of the vessel were not consistent with NSW whale-watching regulations and when more than one vessel was present. While many of the reports of humpback whales feeding in mid- to low-latitude waters in both the southern and northern hemisphere classify this behaviour as a rare opportunistic event, it is probable that southeastern NSW is a significant supplemental feeding ground for migrating whales, especially when oceanographic conditions are optimal for food productivity.
Key Words: HUMPBACK WHALES; MEGAPTERA NOVAEANGLIAE; FEEDING; SOUTHERN MIGRATION; WHALE-WATCHING; AUSTRALIA
Document Type: Research article
Page Numbers: 165-174