Territory Fishos Have a Whale of a time off Cape Arnhem

A Territory fisherman has recorded the first live sighting of Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni) in Top End waters.

The Bryde’s whale (pronounced “broo-dess”) is the only baleen whale species that lives all year-round in warmer waters near the equator.

Spotting two of the Bryde’s whales was a huge surprise for local fisherman Murray Knyvett and his Darwin friends, David and Adelle Brooks, while trying to hook some billfish on Sunday (14 January) off Cape Arnhem, east of Nhulunbuy.

The trio was fishing in Mr Knyvett’s 6.5m Centre Console and had been in the water since Friday when history was created.

“I go fishing off the Cape whenever I can, usually with my wife and kids, but they were on holiday interstate on this occasion,” Mr Knyvett said.

“On the Saturday David had asked if I ever see Frigatebirds and of course the answer was ‘no’, until one flew by a little while later that day.

“He also asked about whales on Sunday, which I had not seen before apart from false killers, which are actually a type of dolphin.

“So of course we saw two Bryde’s whales soon after David started asking about them, which was something quite unique and different.

“When it happened we were trolling for billfish and out of the corner of my eye I saw one of many tuna bust ups when a huge head appeared out of the water and pretty much inhaled the whole bait school.

“We quickly realised they were whales of some sort and much bigger than false killers.

“There were two of them, roughly about 14m long and we followed the more active one that jumped out of the water several times and put on a bit of a show.

“We were about 100m away taking what photos we could but it wasn’t until we googled the different types of whales the next morning that we realised they could be a Bryde’s whale.”

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) senior marine mammal scientist Dr Carol Palmer said the description given of the whales – long and slender in body shape with a narrow nose and thick tail section – matched that of a Bryde’s whale she had seen near West Papua last year.

Dr Palmer said Sunday’s live recording of the Bryde’s whales was the first time that this type of whale had been documented in Top End waters.

“The identity and number of species in the Bryde’s whale complex is still unclear,” Dr Palmer said.

“There are ordinary Bryde’s whale with a worldwide distribution in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans and there has been one or more, smaller forms identified that have a coastal distribution.

“The taxonomy is still unclear and there might be several species or subspecies but currently two are recognised – both offshore and coastal.

“Bryde’s whales are closely related to several fast swimming, medium-to-large whales, all with a similar body shape – the group includes sei, minke and fin whales.

“The Bryde’s whale do not migrate over long distances and they feed all year round, unlike some other baleen whales, such as the humpback whale.

“It is the only baleen species that spends the whole year in tropical and sub-tropical zones.”

Recently, a dwarf Bryde’s whale has been recognised around the Solomon Islands.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) regards Bryde’s as a species “complex” – meaning its classification remains unclear and there are at least two, maybe three, Bryde’s whale species.

“The “complex” has been put into the Data Deficient category, meaning not enough is known about its status to categorise it properly,” Dr Palmer said.

“Sunday’s live recording provides us with more evidence that northern Australia and the NT in particular, is an important area for several different whale and dolphin populations.”

The public is reminded to call the Marine WildWatch number 1800 453 941 to report whale, dolphin, dugong and sea turtle sightings and strandings with more information also available at www.wildwatch.nt.gov.au

Last updated: 18 January 2018