Humpback whales are seen near Montague quite often in the spring. The East Australian humpback whale population passes near the island while migrating south towards Antarctica. These whales can be seen in the springtime eating fish and krill very close to Montague, although they are rarely spotted in the winter. During winter, this population of humpback whales travels to Queensland for breeding and occasionally passes near the island. Montague Island offers whale-watching tours in the spring.
If you’d like to hear whale calls or see these humpback whale populations in Montague’s waters, take a look at our Video and Sounds page (menu above).
Killer Whales (orcinus orca) can be spotted throughout the year, but do not frequent Montague.
Mink, Fin, Sei and Pilot Whales are sometimes seen during whale-watching tours, but rarely approach boats. When spotted, they are typically just passing through the area.
Ocean sunfish, also called Mola mola, are often mistaken for sharks, as their top fin protrudes above the water. They can be seen at any time of the year around the island, but are not regular visitors.
Green turtles follow the current down the coast and oftentimes end up on Pebbly Bay, located in the western part of Montague. While they don’t travel in groups, it isn’t uncommon to see at least one green turtle on pebbly bay during the year.
Common dolphins, also known as delphinus delphis, are seen regularly around Montague Island. Visitors to the island are often fascinated by common dolphins, as they enjoy swimming alongside boats for long periods of time. Common dolphins travel together in large pods and can be seen from outside Narooma port to the waters surrounding Montague.
Bottlenose dolphins, referred to scientifically as tursiops aduncus, rarely swim out to Montague but can be spotted near Narooma. Some of these bottlenose dolphins also playfully ride alongside boats.
The island is no stranger to marine mammals. Aside from birds, marine mammals are the most common wildlife on Montague. This is due to the East Australian Current, which runs near the island. The current attracts baitfish, predator fish and squid, which in turn attract larger marine mammals.
Fur seals are one of the more common marine mammals on Montague Island. While the highest number of fur seals are seen during winter and spring, some fur seals are annual residents of the island. During peak season, more than 1000 fur seals can be seen on and around the island, but this number decreases to 200 post-December. If visitors are lucky, they might even be able to sopot some baby seal pups after December!
Annual island fur seals are typically one of two species: the Australian fur seal and the New Zealand fur seal. While Australian sea lions, antarctic fur seals and carnivorous leopard seals have also been seen on the island, they are not common. Australian fur seals, scientifically known as Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, prefer to sit on rocks in large groups. These seals sit so close to each other that they are oftentimes directly on top of one another. New Zealand fur seals, on the other hand, will be near Australian fur seals but enjoy their personal space. In fact, they have been known to attack other seals that get too close.
Fur seals travel in colonies but do not stay in one site for very long. They prefer to move around to different sites on the northern side of the island. However, a phenomenon observed by researchers is the existence of a New Zealand Fur Seal colony that has stayed on the southern end of the island for two straight years. While different species, all fur seals cool down in the same way. They roll on their side on top of the water and stick a flipper in the air, which looks to some as though they are waving.
Due to the lack of resident predators, seals based on Montague Island are at the top of the food chain. The only recorded death of a seal by a predatory mammal was a few years ago when the seal was taken by a group of Killer Whales. More often than not, seals on the island are killed by hooks and rope from fishing rigs, trawler nets and playing in ship wreckage.
Montague Island visitors are big fans of the seal colony and enjoy snorkeling, diving and exploring near their colonies.
Montague Island Birdlife
There are many species of birds on Montague Island. As the island is free from snakes and predatory mammals, the only danger to the island’s bird population is birds of prey. There are even plenty of seabirds on the island, as the East Australian current pass acts as a source of food.
The island holds NSW’s largest colony of little penguins, officially called Eudyptula Minor. Over 8,000 pairs of these little penguins call Montague Island home. The penguins are most active during breeding and moulting seasons and spend the rest of their year at sea, foraging for food. Those interested in visiting the little penguins have several opportunities during their breeding season, as the island offers evening half-day tours. The island’s illuminated observation platform allows visitors to see the little penguins during their evening routine. There are also some overnight tours available for those interested in assisting with counting birds at the remote landing sites on the island.
Shearwaters are also prevalent on Montague Island. Three species of shearwaters travel thousands of kilometres just to breed on the island. The largest shearwater population is comprised of wedge-tailed shearwaters, while short-tailed shearwaters are also common and sooty shearwaters are rare. These birds spend several months on the island, as they typically arrive late in the spring season and stay until April. Shearwaters are also referred to as “mutton birds,” as their flesh is quite oily when cooked.
Birds of prey, typically raptors, can be spotted on the island daily. White bellied sea eagles are the most common bird of prey that frequents Montague Island and the surrounding areas. While these birds are typically territorial, the island has seen groupings of up to nine of these birds. However, they made a daily commute between the island and the mainland to watch over their territories. Australasian kestrels and back-shouldered kite are also prevalent on the island. The latter, also referred to as elanus axillaris, use the island as a breeding ground. Peregrine falcons and swamp harriers also nest on Montague Island, while the former is known for eating other nesting birds. Whistling kites, also known as haliastur sphenurus, can be spotted flying over the island hunting for food. They have very unique wing tips, which make them easy to identify.
Crested terns (sterna bergii) are another breed of nesting bird that frequents the island, although this species is known for traveling in large groups. However, they keep their nests far enough away from each other than they are just out of reach. These birds will stay on the island from spring until January and are often seen fishing together and returning to their nests with baitfish.
Before the crested terns arrive on the island, silver gulls come to Montague Island to breed. Pairs of silver gulls can have up to four chicks, which makes the island both a noisy location and one peppered with small white chicks. These birds typically leave the island by January.
There are many other bird species that permanently settle on Montague Island. Groundbirds and songbirds stay year-round, while birds on their way to migrate often stop on the island for short periods of time. If the winds come in strong from the west, birds like owls and pigeons may wind up on the island. Similarly, particularly strong easterly winds can carry rare seabirds to Montague.