An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

Whale watching with Kirra Morton

Kirra Morton is a Research Associate with the Centre for Whale Research. She is out on the water every day with Oceanic Cruises providing interpretation for visitors during their whale watching experience and explaining what to record for ClimateWatch Marine.


What motivated you to work on whales and boats?

Having grown up in a small coastal town I have been around the marine environment my entire life. I have always enjoyed getting out on the water with my friends and family so I decided to study in a field that would lead to jobs in the marine industry. If you combine the ocean with the largest animal you get motivation to work with whales!


What’s the worst job you’ve had?

A stewardess on a cruise boat - cleaning toilets and dishes is not glamorous.


Do you still feel excited when you spot a whale?

Definitely, I think anyone should feel privileged and happy if they get to watch and research whales everyday. I often have people approach me after the tours asking me how I still get excited over the whales, easy answer, they are WHALES :)  They aren't something you see everyday, well for most people. They were once on the brink of extinction and now we can head out on a boat 20 minutes from shore and watch them in their natural environment.


What’s the best way to spot whales?

The best way to spot a whale is to look for its blow. The whales exhaling through their blow holes looks similar to a tall column of mist or smoke that rises from the sea surface.


How can you pick the different species?

Humpback Whales have a triangular dorsal fin, long pectoral fins and a hump on the top of their head whereas Southern Right Whales have no dorsal fin and broad pectoral fins.


What types of behaviours do they display?

There are three types of whales we observe on the tour and these are travelling whales, active whales and resting whales.

Active whales often engage in breaching which are those aerial displays that everyone tries to get a picture of. Other common whale behaviours are tail slaps, tail sailing, pectoral slaps, fluke up dives and spy hopping (when they rise vertically out of the water to see above the surface and slowly sink back down.)


What’s your favourite thing about whales?

My favourite thing about whales would have to be their size. When they come close to investigate the vessel and you can see their enormous bodies, you realise how lucky we are to have them swimming around in our oceans.


Tell us about your favourite moment out on the seas.

My favourite moment out on the seas would be on the whale watching boat I work on now. It was a beautiful sunny calm day, the engines were off and we had four whales circling the boat. A calf came up on its side and looked us straight in the eye.