Whale-watching season starts early in Australia, thanks to conservation success

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Known for their impressive acrobatic abilities and melodic whale songs, humpback whales can grow to around 55 feet, with pectoral fins over about a third of their body, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation. These monumental yet graceful whales use their fins and tails to thump the water, creating spectacular splashes that delight whale watchers.

Seeing these majestic whales piercing the water is an unforgettable sight, and one that whale watchers off Australia’s east coast are enjoying earlier than usual this season, when a thriving population of humpback whales migrates north from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef, The Guardian reported. . The migration route is called the “Donkey Highway”.

According to Oceania project director Dr Wally Franklin, sightings have already been reported off Sydney, Byron Bay, Merimbula, the Gold Coast and other places along the whale migration route in the early of the season, which generally sees its peak from late June to July.

“About 20 years ago we had the first whale or two to pass at Easter, but there were about an eighth of the number of whales there are now,” said Professor Mike Noad, director of the Center for Marine Science. at the University of Queensland, as reported by The Guardian. “So one or two at Easter now becomes 16 or 30.”

Not so long ago, things were quite different for the humpback whale. According to Noad, around 99% of the humpback whale population was decimated by whaling, leaving only around 300 humpback whales in eastern Australia before commercial whaling was banned in the 1960s. Noad said he believed there were currently around 40,000 humpback whales in the area.

“All we had to do was stop killing them, we didn’t do much but leave them alone,” Noad said, as reported by The Guardian.

From the 1990s to 2015, the population of humpback whales increased by ten percent each year, according to Franklin, which surprised researchers.

But the friendly whale continues to face threats from humans and natural predators.

“[T]They can become entangled in fishing gear or be struck by vessels. Scientific whaling, pollution, climate change, ocean noise and unsustainable tourism can also affect the population. Humpback calves stay with their mother for 11 to 12 months before becoming independent. During this time, the biggest threat they face is attack by killer whales or sharks,” the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment website said.

Once it was determined that the humpback whale population had reached a healthy level, major surveys were funded by the federal government, with the last one being conducted in 2015, The Guardian reported. Humpback whales were removed from Australia’s endangered species list in February this year. But Noad said it was unclear whether the number of humpback whales was sustainable and that investigations were needed to find out what impact pollution, the climate crisis and other threats were having on these virtuosos of the sea.

Franklin said evidence has been found that whales from other places in the Pacific have been drawn to eastern Australia, as the Great Barrier Reef is an ideal breeding ground for humpback whales.

“The upside is that whale watchers along the NSW and Queensland coast are starting to see the whales earlier, and they’ll see them for longer,” Franklin said, as reported by The Guardian. .

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