Feature Species: Western Ringtail Possum

How gorgeous is this video of a baby Western Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus occidentalis)? These little guys are ranked as Critically Endangered using the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) criteria and are endemic to the southwest ecoregion, which means that they are found nowhere else in the world! The Western Ringtail is a nocturnal and arboreal species who are usually found feeding, sleeping or socialising high in the canopy. With a small home range of around 5ha, they will use 2-7 rest sites which are usually nests or dreys built in low shrubs, thickets, grass trees and various tree canopies.

These possums feed almost exclusively on the leaves of the Peppermint trees (Agonis flexuosa), but can sometimes be found to be chomping down on Marri (Corymbia calophylla) and Jarrah (Ecalyptus marginal) foliage. Interestingly unlike many other herbivorous mammals, the Western Ringtail only has one compartment to their stomach making digestion of there diet quite a challenge. They have solved this problem by consuming their own scat whilst they are resting throughout the day in their dreys. That’s right, they chew their own poo to maximise their nutrient intake from each meal! The first scat that they produce during the day is known as caeotroph and tends to be thick and dark, almost resembling tar. The second scat is much more dry and firm being produced during the night.

Female possums usually give birth in late autumn and winter, however in and around Busselton where populations thrive possums can birth twice a year. Usually one baby is born after a gestation of 2-4 weeks, however they have been known to give birth to 2 or even 3 young in a litter. After 3 months the babies will emerge permanently from the pouch and will continue to suckle milk for up to 8 months. By 8-12 months, the young have left their mothers home range to discover their own territory.

The biggest pressure faced by these gorgeous marsupials is one faced by animals all over the globe, displacement by human development. Many measures have been put in place to ensure that areas where these little guys are known to thrive are managed to conserve these little guys into the future including education programs to raise awareness, protecting critical habitat and surveying any clearings for evidence of possum populations.

A Whale of Time for our Humpbacks!

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen a Humpback breach, you still can’t help but to stop in awe of these enormous, majestic and mystical creatures! With adults measuring 12-16 meters in length and weighing in at a whopping 30,000kg there is still something so streamline and weightless about the way they move through the ocean.

Adult Humpback breaching

Amazing breaching humpback in Geographe Bay. Photo credit: the_mermaid_viking

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) have a life expectancy of at least 48 years, with sexual maturity being reached between four and eight years (average five years). These whales have a gestation of 11-12 months and once their calves are born, they breast feed for a further 10-12 months. Calves become independent between one and five years after birth (sometimes even longer), with a two and a half year average calving interval. This just highlights the immense commitment from these mothers to raise their young.

Baby and mother Humpback whales

Mother and baby Humpback in Geographe Bay. Photo credit: the_mermaid_viking

At the moment hikers on the Cape to Cape Track are experiencing the peak period of migration for population 8 (Group D) of the 15 populations of Humpback’s from around the world. Although this populations was hunted to the brink of extinction throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, they are steadily recovering at a rate of approximately 11% per year with current estimates placing population 8 as the largest aggregation of Humpbacks in the world nearing 50,000 individuals.

Tail slapping Humpback

A big tail slap by an adult Humpback. Photo credit: the_mermaid_viking

Every year, these enchanting creatures take the incredible journey from their feeding grounds in the nutrient rich waters of Antarctica between (70° E and 130° E) all the way up to their breeding area in Australia’s north-west – as far as Camden Sound. The congregation leaves Antarctica around May in an orderly fashion dependent on sex and reproductive status. On their journey to their breeding grounds, lactating females with their yearlings head out first, followed by immature males and females with mature males, resting females and pregnant females making up the tail end charlie aggregation. On their journey south, mixed females, immature males and females leave first, followed by mature males and finally females with calves in early lactation follow.

Surfacing Humpback in Geographe Bay

Surfacing Humpback. Photo credit: the_mermaid_viking

The whales travel an incredible 9,000kms on their return journey and unbelievably they very rarely feed throughout the entire migration. They tend to stay within 20kms of the coast in waters of depths up to 200m. On their way back to their feeding ground in Antarctica, they hitch a ride in the Leeuwin Current – boosting their speed to approximately 10km/h which would be a massive help for a lactating mother on an empty stomach. The whales stop for a rest at four different locations on their journey, including Augusta, Geographe Bay, Shark Bay and the southern Kimberley region. We are very lucky to have the whales spending a little extra time on either side of the Cape and if you are in the area during the migration, we definitely recommend taking a charter to get up, close and personal with these gentle giants!

Migration of Humpbacks

Distribution of the 2 migrating populations of the Humpback Whale’s in Australia.