A group of fishermen from the Canberra Game Fishing Club had an encounter with a pod of rarely observed Arnoux's beaked whales on the edge of the Continental Shelf off Narooma on Saturday.
Club member James Kemp was on board president Greg Campbell’s game fishing boat Aquaholic trolling for marlin at the area known as “The Kink” when the whales approached from the south, heading north. They were in 85 fathoms, or 155 metres of water, and the temperature was 23.2 degrees.
“We saw them off in the distance and we didn’t realise they were something different until they came closer,” Mr Kemp said. “The splashes were huge and Greg reckons they were between 12 and 15 tonnes.”
There were five or six in the pod and the whales featured a distinctive beak, which prompted him to start investigating and doing some research into exactly what kind of whale they could be.
Back on shore and after a few social media posts, it became apparent that these whales were indeed the very rarely sighted Arnoux's beaked whales – Latin name Berardius arnuxii.
Stephanie Sharpe from WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (formerly WDCS), picked up on his post and posted in return: “There are about 20 different types and they share many physical similarities so can be difficult to identify. Beaked whales live in deep, offshore waters so are less often seen than other species, indeed some have only ever been recorded from stranded individuals. To have seen these whales breaching is very special indeed.”
Then the Facebook page known as Cetal Fauna also picked up on the sighting, confirming they were indeed the rare Arnoux's beaked whales. Michael McMaster from the Merimbula Aquarium reposted the photographs on the Cetal Fauna page.
Mr Kemp said a beaked whale researcher based in Poland Wojtek Bachara was one of the first to make a positive identification. “Yes, 200% arnuxii” Mr Bachara posted.
Whale researcher and compiler of the Australian Orca Database, David Donnelly was also excited to see the whale posting: “Very nice sighting. There are a few other records of this species from this area between Bermagui and Eden. These sightings have come mostly from commercial fishers whose images also show surface active behaviour.”
According to the Australian Government’s Department of Environment website, Arnoux's beaked whales are known from only five stranded specimens in Australia (South Australia, south-west Western Australia (two), Tasmania and the subAntarctic).
Possible sightings of Arnoux's beaked whales inshore off South Australia and the south coast of NSW have also been recorded (Ross 2006). Confirmed sightings have been made in the Australian Antarctic territorial waters (Peddemors 2006b, pers. obs.). Most sightings have been made in the Tasman Sea and around the East Pacific Rise, which forms part of the Albatross Cordillera in the South Pacific Ocean. No key localities are known in Australian waters (Bannister et al. 1996). Read more
More whale stories from Narooma waters
The story Rare Arnoux's beaked whale spotted off Narooma | Photos first appeared on Narooma News.