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Fast Facts – Whale Sharks

whaleshark

Whale sharks are the largest fish in our oceans and can reach 40 feet or more. Whale sharks are slow moving filter-feeders. They feed by scooping up tiny plants and animals in their enormous gaping mouths as they glide close to the surface of the ocean. They are enormous and can weigh as much as 60 tons!!!

Are whale sharks really sharks?

 They have all the 33 characteristics of a shark such as a cartilage skeleton, five pairs of gills and unfused pectoral fins to the head. Unlike whales, they are not mammals and the young are not fed by the mother’s milk. Like sharks, whale sharks are fish.

Ten Amazing Facts About Whale Sharks

  1. The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest fish and shark in the world
  2. The whale shark is found in open waters of the tropical oceans and is rarely found in water below 22 °C (72 °F). They are usually restricted to around +- 30 degrees of latitude
  3. Scientists estimate that the lifespan of the whale shark ranges from 70 to 100 years
  4. The whale shark is also the largest non-cetacean animal in the world
  5. The average size of adult whale sharks is estimated at 9.7 meters (31.82 ft) and 9 tonnes (20,000 lb)
  6. The whale shark has over 300 to 350 rows of tiny teeth in its mouth
  7. Whale sharks are solitary creatures
  8. They spend most of their time near the surface
  9. The whale shark is a filter feeder, feeding mainly on plankton
  10. The whale shark can process over 6,000 litres (1,500 gallons) of water each hour

Annual Humpback Whale Migration – East Coast Australia

Each year between April and November, Australia’s eastern coastline comes alive with the spectacular acrobatic displays of humpback whales. After a summer of feeding on krill in Antarctic waters, these charismatic animals migrate north to sub-tropical waters where they mate and give birth. And we are lucky enough to be able to easily spot them on their travels from our majestic coastline!

During their annual migration of up to 10 000 kilometres, humpbacks can easily be seen off the coast of New South Wales and Queensland.

The exact timing of the migration period can vary from year to year depending on water temperature, sea ice, predation risk, prey abundance and the location of their feeding ground.

Humpback Migration Route and Timing

The majority of humpbacks in Australian waters migrate north from June to August, and back towards the Southern Ocean from September to November.

Migration Grouping

Groups of young males typically lead the migration while pregnant cows and cow-calf pairs bring up the rear. Adult breeding animals form the bulk of the migration in the middle stages.

Humpback Whale Facts

  • Humpback whale length: 12- 16 metres
  • Humpback whale weight: up to 50 tonnes or 6 elephants!
  • Average birth weight of humpback: 2 tonnes
  • Birth length: 4-5 metres
  • Humpback whale gestation period: 11 months
  • Favoured birth temperature: 22-25 degrees
  • Origin of Humpback Whale name: the name comes from their very long pectoral fins and knobby looking head which looks a bit like a hump!
  • Easily tracked as identifiable by the unique markings on their tail fluke – so we can learn lots about them!
  • Humpback whale travel speed: up to 8 km an hour
  • Migration travel speed: humpback average only 1.6km an hour during the migration as they rest and socialise along the way
  • Humpbacks sing songs that may be heard hundreds of kilometres away
  • East Coast Australia’s most famous humpback whale is white and has an Aboriginal name, ‘Migaloo’ which means white fella.

The humpback whale is not the largest whale found in Australian waters but we reckon its’ the most iconic.

Following in the Footsteps of Marine Pioneers

We at Ocean Life Education are proud and privileged to be protectors of the sea. We have made it our mission to raise awareness about the plight of our planet and in particular, the more than 70 percent of it covered in water.

For us, it’s a matter of following in the footsteps of the many wonderful conservationists who pioneered a global effort to highlight environmental issues impacting beyond our shorelines.

French explorer and film-maker Jacques Cousteau was amongst the first to put the spotlight on life below the surface in his book “Silent World” which was published almost 70 years ago. His invention of reliable diving equipment allowed millions of people to discover and understand the underwater world and along the way, draw attention to the fact that rubbish in our oceans does not just magically disappear when it sinks out of sight. Debris still litters the seabed from ships that sunk hundreds of years ago, and the problem of plastic pollution is growing bigger by the day.

British broadcaster Sir David Attenborough has spent most of his adult life sharing footage of vulnerable animals, many of which live in our oceans. The 93-year-old is a champion of the natural world, helping his audience to understand how everything we do on land has a flow on effect out at sea – trying to ensure even if it’s out of sight, it won’t be out of mind.

Across the Atlantic, renowned biologist, Dr Sylvia Earle, has made it her life work to learn about the sea and educate others about its struggles to stay healthy. Back in the 1950’s, when the scientific arena was dominated by men, she forged a career in marine biology and convinced people to pay attention to the colourful world beneath the waves. Her impressive credentials and passion for the ocean led to her being named as Time Magazine’s inaugural Hero for the Planet, 21 years ago.

Closer to home, talented photographer Valerie Taylor, has helped to turn the tide on treating the sea as merely a place to plunder for our own needs. She and her husband were heavily into spearfishing but chose to capture images instead when they saw how much they had depleted a local reef. They became fierce defenders of sharks, debunking many of the myths surrounding the most feared of the ocean creatures.

But along with the most recognisable faces in the crusade to sustain our greatest natural resource, is a legion of everyday people trying to make a difference. Every individual who removes rubbish from the beach, stands guard over turtle nests, reduces their plastic waste or speaks out against high density coastal development is helping to protect that part of our planet that creates most of the oxygen we breathe.

And we at Ocean Life Education will continue to do our bit, inspiring young minds to appreciate marine creatures though our interactive programs. Along with all the information we share to keep students well informed, we give even the youngest of participants the opportunity to create a bond with our animal ambassadors that may just lead to a life dedicated to saving our seas.

Behind the Scenes at Ocean Life Education

They say never work with children or animals – but Richard Coward is happy to do both. The director of Ocean Life Education has spent the past 13 years combining two of his passions – protecting marine life and inspiring young minds. But the time spent in classrooms, early learning centres and at community events makes up only a fraction of the working day for Richard and his team of educators.

The day usually starts before first light, checking on the crew of animal ambassadors to make sure they are healthy and raring to go on an adventure. The creatures are chosen on a rotational basis to ensure they receive rest days between their public appearances, minimising fatigue. Bags of oxygenated water are filled to provide a safe and comfortable space inside the travel tubs which will become their home for their time on the road.

Apart from the cargo of animals, the van is loaded with extra salt water, games, artefacts, toys and books depending on the programs booked for the day. Details are checked and notes read through to make sure the educator is as prepared as possible for the day ahead.
Then they join the line-up of commuters, criss-crossing South East Queensland as they slowly progress towards their first show of the day.

Unpacking the animals and exhibits is an artform in itself, with tubs carefully stacked to limit the numbers of trips back and forwards. We allow half an hour to set up, giving the animals new water so they can breathe easily while on display. We arrange them in a user-friendly way that allows enthusiastic little participants ample room to feel their way around our very tactile exhibits. Children wash their hands without soap to ensure no chemicals or sunscreen residue is passed onto our animals.

We normally present multiple sessions at any one location, quickly re-setting between shows to make it fresh for the new group. Pack up time takes another half hour as water is changed again to prepare the animals to move to a new location where we repeat the whole process.
When the final program is over and everything secured in the van, we head home to return our animal ambassadors to their tanks and begin the feeding regime. We have half a dozen different food sources to distribute to our creatures, their diets carefully regulated to mimic conditions in the wild.

On days when we don’t have displays to set up, we maintain our tanks, receiving 1,500 litres of ocean water every couple of weeks which we store and use when needed.
Even though our animals may only be on display for short periods in the day, a lot goes into keeping them happy and healthy. But we know all the cleaning, all the prep work and all the sitting in traffic is worth it if it helps the next generation learn to love, appreciate and protect our waterways.