Pod of Endangered Species Sei Whales sighted at Agincourt Reef

Sei Whales Passengers and crew aboard the Port Douglas-based dive and snorkel vessel Silversonic were excited to see more than five whales, confirmed to be Sei Whales at Agincourt Reef in late February.

The Sei Whales, which remain on the endangered species list, were seen near Silversonic’s “Three Sisters” site at Agincourt Reef. While the boat was stationary, one of the whales emerged in full view spending several minutes around the boat before swimming away. Further in the distance, another four or more whales were seen diving and appeared to be feeding.

Quicksilver marine biologist and Environment Compliance Manager, Doug Baird, said the whales were between 15 –18 metres long and due to the inquisitive nature of the whale that approached the boat, several photographs were taken. This enabled the whales to be identified with the assistance of a whale researcher with extensive experience in whale identification. The key to identifying a Sei Whale is through the distinguishing feature of a single ridge extending from the blowholes to the tip of the upper jaw.

Photos courtesy of Shane Down

Silversonic had first recorded sighting one of these rare whales in January 2008.

The Sei (pronounced “say”) Whales are among the more elusive of the large whales and are rarely seen inshore preferring the deeper oceans. They are one of the fastest whales with bursts of speed up to 55km/hr. The Sei Whale is very similar in appearance to the Fin and Brydes whales being long, streamlined and having a V – shaped head which is flat on top.

Growing up to 20 metres and 30 tonnes, they are the third largest of the baleen whales, after the Blue Whale and the Fin Whale. Their body is dark grey with a paler underside. It has twin blowholes with a low splashguard to the front.

The Sei Whale is a filter feeder, feeding on small schooling fish, squid and crustaceans. It feeds by swimming at a relatively high speed, opening its jaw which causes it to engulf up to 18,000 gallons of water. It then closes its jaw and pushes the water back out its mouth through the baleen, allowing the water to leave while trapping the prey. They can consume up to 2 tons of food per day.

In general, the Sei whale migrates annually from cool and subpolar waters in summer to temperate and subtropical waters for winter, where food is more abundant and mating occurs.

The Sei Whale is on the endangered species list with reports of less than 54,000 in the world