Humpback Whales

Hervey Bay is the whale watch capital of the world where from August to November each year, humpback whales frolic in the sheltered waters. It is the place the whales come to rest and play for up to a week before continuing their annual 16,000km migration to Antarctica. There are many whale watching trips with a variety of vessels to choose from.

During the season, the boats run seven days a week with options comprising a dawn whale watch, half day, three quarter day and full day tours. Some operators have children’s activities and wheelchair access. The crew on board will explain the behaviour of the humpback whales and give you information about their migration. Cruises venture into the sheltered gentle waters of Platypus Bay, part of Hervey Bay, protected by Fraser Island. Groups of any size can be catered for and it is possible to design a trip to suit your requirements.

THEY’VE been leisurely heading our way since March. Weighing as much as 45 tonnes and up to 16m long, the humpback whales have started their 6000km annual trip to Queensland’s warmer waters. Recent sightings have been contirmed off the coast of Fraser Island and pods have been spotted breaching in the lee of Point Lookout, on North Stradbroke Island. But the great whales are in no particular hurry and there will be a steady procession of humpbacks off the coast, from Byron Bay north, in the lead-up to the official whale watching season in Hervey Bay, which begins on August 1.

Australian Whale Conservation Society president Paul Hodder estimates that Queensland’s annual whale spectacular once featured 10,000 humpbacks. Then the world’s whaling industry, in the days of sailing schooners and harpooners in wooden longboats, headed to Antarctic waters to harvest the giants as they gorged daily on tonnes of krill and plankton in readiness for the run north. Not until 1954 did Eastern Australia, with major whaling stations established at Byron Bay and Tangalooma, on Moreton Island, begin wholesale slaughter of the travelling pods.

With the aid of harpoon cannons, power cutters to slice through the blubber and diesel winches to haul the bloody carcasses clear of the frenzied sharks, the whalers left their mark. In the gory decade until 1964, the annual migration was reduced to about 500 whales, Hodder estimates. But whale oil has been replaced by synthetics.

The humpbacks’ journey from Antarctica to their calving grounds near the Whitsundays is a five-month round by trip. Great white sharks shadow the The Moby Dick-style whales, ready to prey on injured calves. The youngsters and their mothers are first to arrive in Queensland waters. By early next month, migration reaches some sort of peak.Whales may be seen in the Moreton Bay but their visits are transitory. Their destination where they play and flirt, mate and frolic is in Hervey Bay.

Then, in September, something perhaps hunger reminds the humpbacks to swim south once more. The Great Barrier Reef’s visiting humpback population may now have grown to as many as 2500, although they are far from being out of trouble, Hodder says. Three weeks ago, the first of the Year 2000 roll-up were seen off Cape Byron.

In coming weeks, from just about every headland from Byron Bay to Double Island Point, you should be able to see them passing. While the humpbacks are creatures of routine, headland watchers may also spot other species. Free-ranging ocean roamers such as the immense blue whales, killer whales, Bryde’s whales, southern right whales, minkes and melon-headed whales all grace Queensland’s inshore waters from time to time.

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