Watch out for whales whilst on the water

Published: 11/05/2012

Humpback whales are making a move early this year, with a number of whales already sighted moving up the eastern Australian coastline towards the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

The early start to the humpback whale migration is likely to be due to the steadily increasing whale population, following the banning of whaling in Australian waters in the early 1960s.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) species conservation expert Dr Mark Read said humpback whale numbers had been increasing steadily by about 10 per cent each year, with the population doubling about every seven years.

"What we're seeing now is that the numbers have reached a level where the tail end of the migration is earlier and with more whales, although long-term research indicates that the peak of the migration is unchanged."

The sightings have prompted GBRMPA to remind people to be whale aware while they are out on the water.

Dr Read said vessel operators needed to watch out for whales and know the correct approach distances.

"People out on the water need to abide by the correct distances for their own safety and the safety of the whales," Dr Read said.

Between May and September, humpback whales undertake their journey to warmer northern waters to socialise, mate, give birth and nurse their young.

Dr Read said humpback whales could be quite curious and may voluntarily approach boats, but it was important to keep at a safe distance.
“We have to remember these are large and powerful animals; an adult humpback is anything between 11 to 15 metres long and can weigh up to 40 tonnes.

“Whale watching regulations are in place to ensure whale watchers are safe and whales are not harassed or disturbed."

Legally, vessels must stay at least 100 metres from whales in the Marine Park and 300 metres in the Whitsunday Whale Protection Area. It is also a requirement to stay at least 300m away from a whale calf throughout the Marine Park.

Jet skis must stay at least 300 metres from whales in the Marine Park.
"The best whale watching experience is when whales are given the space to exhibit normal behaviours without interference from people," Dr Read said.

"A whale that is disturbed is less likely to spend time at the surface, so whale watchers may not get the most from the experience."

"Disturbing a mother and its calf may cause the calf to stop feeding and leave its mother. Separating a mother and calf can be dangerous if the mother feels her calf is under threat." 

The legal requirements when operating a vessel around whales are set out in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 1983 and can be accessed via our website

To report sick and injured animals, phone 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625).

Name: GBRMPA media
Contact: (07) 4750 0846