A local whale watcher is excited to report a number of Southern Right whales have been identified as being repeat visitors to Fleurieu waters.
Elizabeth Steele-Collins of Waitpinga Cliffs said several whales have been identified by comparing images taken over previous years. Mrs Steele-Collins said Southern Right whales can be identified by their unique patterns of thickened skin growth, or callosity, on their heads.
One of the identified returned whales is Augustus, who was observed this year on June 16 at Petrel Cove with another whale. Mrs Steele-Collins said she previously snapped Augustus in August 2010.
"These re-sightings are always exciting, but to get a positive 'match' often takes a while to confirm, as many hours are spent comparing photographs of the callosities of the individual whales," she said.
A number of other whales have been matched in previous whale seasons.
Mrs Steele-Collins said a favourite match is Milky Way, who has visited Encounter Bay three years in a row. His last sighting was in 2013.
Through photo identification in 2014, researchers from the Curtin University Great Australian Bight Right Whale Study confirmed Milky Way was a rare white calf who was born at Head of Bight (HOB) in 2010. Milky Way has also been sighted and photographed off the coast of Portland, Victoria.
Mrs Steele-Collins said HOB - about four hours west of Ceduna - is the largest Southern Right whale breeding ground in Australia, where the mammals are protected by the sanctuary zone of the Great Australian Bight Marine Reserve.
Individual whales have been catalogued at HOB as part of an ongoing study in photo identification and population census, and in more recent years, the connectivity with Fowlers Bay.
Encounter Bay whale spotters are collaborating with Southern Right whale researchers from Curtin University, with the aim of cataloguing all whales in Fleurieu waters. This will enable researchers to cross-match individual whales between other South Australian aggregation grounds.
Mrs Steele-Collins is hoping a photo identification catalogue of whales that visit Encounter Bay's waters will be set up.
Another favourite whale, Latte, spent several weeks in Encounter Bay in 2013 and visited briefly last year. Latte was last seen in local waters on July 12, 2014 as he passed by Waitpinga Cliffs heading west. He was subsequently seen at HOB on August 14 by two local whale spotters who were visiting that region at the time.
Claire Charlton, the lead researcher of the Curtin University Great Australian Bight Right Whale Study at HOB was able to confirm this connection and was pleased to report Latte has visited HOB again this year.
There have been a number of other individual whales that have been cross-matched between Encounter Bay and other areas including Fowlers Bay, Lipson Cove and Portland.
"We certainly are blessed that the whales choose our waters to come to socialise, find a mate or give birth and raise their young calves," Mrs Steele-Collins said.
She said there have been an estimated 30 Southern Right whales sighted in Encounter Bay waters so far this season.
This includes one mother and calf pair, who stayed in the region's waters for around 11 days.