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Byron Shire
December 4, 2021

Black bellied whale sighted at Ballina dubbed ‘Liquorice’

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Sonia Friedrich named this little bubba ‘Liquorice’ because of its black belly. Photo Sonia Friedrich.

For years southern waters whale watchers have been keeping their eyes keen for Migaloo and his offspring, but just how many local cetacean enthusiasts have seen a black whale?

Sonia recently went out on a whale watching tour with Out Of the Blue Adventures and they came across a black-bellied baby humpback whale.

‘We’d been out on the boat without much action that morning. The conditions were perfect, with low winds and swell on a 7.30am whale watching cruise.

This is where this bubba gets his/her name, they look like strap liquorice. Photo Sonia Friedrich.

‘I’d also thought it might be my last trip this year. I’d hoped to go out more often yet due to some poor weather and then COVID lockdowns this season, we missed some of the best opportunities to see the whales.

Sonia, who lives at Byron Bay, says she was happy just to be out on the ocean.

‘It was toward the end of the trip the whales appeared and this little calf was excited and breaching.  It must have breached five times and was getting closer to the boat.’

Sonia says marine biologist Emily Horton was also on the trip. ‘It was Emily who noticed the black underbelly, something I certainly wasn’t aware of.

Mumma humpback was watching nearby. Photo Sonia Friedrich.

‘I love that with a marine biologist onboard, like any professional, they are trained and know so much more. You learn something new every time. Her excitement in seeing this, got us all even more excited, realising that we were witnessing something quite special in these southern waters.

The vessel was about 2 nautical miles east of Patches Beach when it was spotted and Sonia immediately dubbed it ‘Liquorice’.

Sonia says mumma humpback was close by as the calf put on a show.

‘There was a young boy on board and it was his birthday,’ says Sonia. ‘This made his day, it was pretty special.’

Sonia says the whales always take her breath away. ‘I am in awe of them. This may sound odd to some, however, I trust my intuition and before booking in (for a tour) I tune in and ask what I am going to see and capture. Only when I hear the answer of when I’m meant to go out, do I book in. So far that has worked for me. Every trip is different, and every trip has a magic of its own. I love it!

Ooh wee, ooh wee, weeee, ooh wee, WEEEEEE. Photo Sonia Friedrich.

‘I always feel like time stands still out here. I’m completely connected to nature and all of who I am. It’s another world.

Sonia says that now she has a photographic record of Liquorice, she will look for it again next year. ‘The whales migrate mostly the same each year and now that I have a picture of its fluke, I’ll be able to tell if it’s the same one. Their fluke is an identifier, like our fingerprints.

Sonia says she went home and looked up black-bellied whales. ‘It seems there have been a few of them in the last few years, however, these markings are mostly from whales in the Northern Hemisphere.  

It makes sense there must be a mum and dad with the same markings. Maybe it’s the change in weather that we are seeing a merging of the two? Not that I know this for sure, but I can’t wait until next year!’

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