Cetus the humpback whale

Cetus is a humpback whale from Australia with a very extensive history. Our researchers have sighted him on 21 different occasions!

Based on our sightings, our researchers have been able to determine that Cetus is a male. We approximate his age at around 25 years. The humpback whales that we see in Australia often have very light colored tail flukes. Because Cetus has dark flukes - and because they are heavily scarred—it is very easy for our researchers to identify him.

Our team also noticed a particularly interesting scar on his flukes, which resembles the constellation Cetus.

Cetus can be traced back to antiquity. This constellation is one of the 48 original constellations charted by Ptolemy. Cetus is visible at latitudes between +70° and -90°; the best time to view Cetus is during the month of November.

In classical civilizations, the figure of Cetus was considered to be a giant sea monster. Today it is more commonly known as "the whale."

Cetus is also Latin word for the order Cetacea which includes the whales, dolphins, and porpoises. That's why our researchers decided Cetus is an appropriate name for this unique Australian humpback whale!

Our first sighting of Cetus took place on September 3, 1988. At that time, Cetus was a subadult whale, meaning that he had not yet reached full maturity. At the time, Cetus was in Hervey Bay, which is located on the eastern coast of Australia. Hervey Bay is a wide expanse of water that is bordered on one side by Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, and on the other side by the Australian mainland. Much of Hervey Bay is shallow (less than 18 meters deep), with a sand or mud bottom.

Many people consider Hervey Bay to be one of the world's finest whalewatch locations. Humpback whales are found in Hervey Bay each year, starting in mid-July and continuing through early November. These whales are part of a population of at least 14,000 humpback whales that migrate along Australia's eastern coast each year between their winter breeding areas and their summer feeding areas. Over 30% of this population is believed to stop in Hervey Bay during their migration. The large number of whales in this relatively small area results in extraordinary whalewatching.

Our research has shown that many humpback whales spend at least a few days in Hervey Bay before continuing on their way. Cetus illustrated this tendency perfectly; he was sighted again in Hervey Bay on September 7, 1988, four days after his initial sighting.

Cetus was sighted the next year in Hervey Bay on August 15, 1989. Two years later, Cetus was sighted on August 10, 1991, also in Hervey Bay.

Three years went by before we saw Cetus again. In 1994, he was sighted on August 17th and 18th in Hervey Bay.

Once again, there was a gap of a few years. During that time we wondered: would we see Cetus again? Fortunately, we found him on September 14, 1998 in Hervey Bay.

We then saw him a year later, on October 10, 1999, also in Hervey Bay.

Pacific Whale Foundation is fortunate to receive fluke identification photos taken by our friends who operate Cat Balou Cruises. Their whalewatches take place in an area known as Eden, located near the southeasternmost point of Australia. Eden is also along the migratory route for this population of southern hemisphere whales. Cat Balou Cruises sighted Cetus off the coast of Eden on October 3, 2000.

Up until this point, we were not certain of this whale's gender. But in 2002, we were rewarded with five sightings of Cetus in Hervey Bay (on September 14, 15, 24 and 26, and October 2). During several of those sightings, he was escorting a mother and her calf - our first clue that perhaps Cetus was a male! In the world of humpback whales, males and females do not form long-term pair bonds. In general, an escort whale is considered to be a sexually active male, but is not the calf's father. The escort whale usually stays with the mother and calf for no more than a day; in fact most associations last only a few hours.

Our theory looked promising, when on September 14, 2004, we saw Cetus in a large competitive pod of at least 8 animals that was travelling at a fast speed in Hervey Bay. A competition pod is made up of a group of males who are actively pursuing a female, each attempting to gain the most advantageous position near her. Competition pods can be very lively, as the males push and shove or display other high energy behaviors such as breaching, head lunging, peduncle throws and rapid swimming at the surface. Competition groups often gain or lose members and can persist for many hours, as the strongest males strive to hold the closest positions to the female.

On August 30 of 2005, we saw Cetus as an escort again to a mother and calf pod, also in Hervey Bay. Finally, on September 27, 2005, we saw Cetus singing - final confirmation that he is a male! Only males "sing" - and this singing primarily occurs in breeding and calving areas. The exact function of the song is not known. It may signal fitness or readiness to mate or it may be a form of acoustic challenge to other males. During this occasion, he was also in Hervey Bay.

Cetus has continued to reward us with sightings in Hervey Bay. He was sighted there on August 13 and September 22 of 2006. Both times, he was in a male competition pod.

On August 7, 2007, researchers identified him again in Hervey Bay. Our most recent sighting was on August 27, 2009, when he was seen in Hervey Bay in the company of one other adult, breaching and pec slapping.

Because our researchers work in Hervey Bay each year, we believe it is very likely that we will see Cetus again. As the adoptive parent of Cetus, you will be notified when he is sighted. We thank you for adopting this well-documented Australian humpback whale!

Sightings of Cetus