Whale Watching Season Kicks Off on the Gold Coast

From the Gold Coast Bulletin May 17, 2012

Whale-watching season kicks off on Coast

Tanya Westthorp   |  12:01am May 17, 2012


HUMPBACK whales are already being spotted making their winter migration along our coastline with the biggest pods since pre-whaling days expected to pass Byron Bay and the Gold Coast this year.

Southern Cross University marine ecology research centre director Professor Peter Harrison said up to 17,000 humpbacks would make the northern migration this year as the population continued to recover by about 10 per cent a year after nearly being wiped out during the whaling years.

"This year will be very special; there will be more humpback whales along our coastline for the first time since mid last century," he said.

"Some whales have already been spotted along our coastline migrating up to the Great Barrier Reef from mid-April and the peak migration will start in the last two weeks of June.

"The humpback whale population was estimated between 26,000 and 30,000 but then crashed down to possibly a few hundred during the massive whaling in the middle of last century and became economically extinct.

"In the early 1950s, illegal whaling by the Soviet Union in the southern Australian waters killed 25,000 humpbacks in just two summers and virtually wiped them out."

Australia's last whaling station in Albany, Western Australia, closed in 1978.

Prof Harrison said about 1500 extra humpback whales were this year starting their migration from Antarctic waters up the eastern coast of Australia to the Great Barrier Reef where they will spend the winter breeding and calving.

The peak group, which is passing Tasmania now, is due to appear in waters off Byron Bay and the Gold Coast from mid-June.

Travelling between 100-140km a day, it will take the whales about two months to make the 6000-8000km migration north.


Prof Harrison said the whales did not tend to travel in packs until they reached Byron Bay, with the most easterly point of Australia creating a ``funnelling effect'', grouping the whales together in huge numbers and providing amazing whale-watching opportunities.

Famous albino whale Migaloo is expected to appear late June.

By the time some of the last stragglers make their way to northern Queensland in late July, some of early migrators are already heading back south for the summer.

GoDo.com.au general manager Renee Welsh said the Gold Coast had progressively become a whale-watching destination, with locals and visitors eager to see humpbacks that can grow up to 15m and weighing 40 tonnes.

South Stradbroke Island is understood to be a popular whale resting area with the animals finding food in the waters to sustain them throughout migration.