Whale Watching

2aWhale Facts The first spotter plane used to guide the whale watch vessels to the whales dropped rolls of toilet paper out of its windows as a marker. Hervey Bay has been an important destination for the humpback whales for millions of years as the last sheltered area before returning to the Americas. The shape of the Bay creates a natural catchment area for the whales. Each year the Southern Ocean humpback whales travel up to 10,000 kilometewrs from feeding grounds in the Antartica to breed and give birth in the warmer waters of Australia and the South Pacific Islands. In late July they begin their migration back to Antartica. Researchers believe up to half of the 10,000 migrating whales call into Hervey Bay from July to early November annually. These majestic creatures were once hunted to the brink of extinction. It is estimated that less than 100 remained when commercial whaling was banned in 1986. Despite the ban, over 25,000 whales have been killed over the past 20 years, many under Japan's 'scientific' whaling program.

Nala's Tale Like old friends dropping in regularly to say hello, the humpback whales and the Hervey Bay whale watching fleet have formed a unique relationship which is the subject of years of scientific research. Nothing tells this story better than the tale of Nala, Hervey Bay's adopted whale. Nala was first recorded in the Bay in 1992. Since then she has returned whith a new calf in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2005. Nala is a veteran subject of Trish and Wally Franklin, founders and directors of The Oceania Project. Since 1989 they have been studying and photographing the East Coast humpbacks in Hervey Bay, building a database of nearly 3,000 individual whales using patterns and fluke, dorsal fins and body markings. "Hervey Bay is absolutely unique as a humpback whale destination. We are not aware of any other area in the world where humpback whales behave like they do in the Bay", says Wally Franklin. "The number of individual whales who keep returning year after year and the interaction between the whales and the whale watch fleet is remarkable." "Essentially the whales feel safe here because of the excellent behaviour by the whale watch fleet. They know what to expect here and without a doubt they enjoy the interactions almost as much as the humans.

The whale calves born in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon come into Hervey Bay when they are just a few weeks old and are introduced by their mothers to the whale fleet and taught how to behave around the boats," he said. Recent research by the Franklins comparing the behaviour of whales on migration in the Great Barrier Reef and in Hervey Bay supports its status as the whale watching capital of the world. In two weeks following the whales on migration, the research vessel recorded n o close extended encounters - or "muggings" as they are commonly known. Compare this with Hervey Bay, where an average of one in four pods of whales will come close and "mug" a boat - having a good look at those on board and staying as long as ten minutes or more. "One of the longest encounters we had was with three humpbacks in over four hours....what other creatures would give humans four hours of rapt attention?" Wally said. For more information on the Oceania Project go to www.oceania.org.au

For information on whale watching tours go to www.visitherveybay.info


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