Look out for those below during bumper whale season

Published: 30/05/2013

This year’s whale watching season will see the highest number of humpback whales entering the Great Barrier Reef for more than half a century, with Marine Park users urged to abide by approach distances.

Schools of pilot and minke whales have already been sighted off Port Douglas, while between 14,000 and 16,000 humpbacks are expected to arrive on the Reef over June and July.

After spending the summer feeding in the Antarctic, the humpbacks migrate to the Reef’s warmer waters, while tens of thousands of others travel to the west coast, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands for the winter.

GBRMPA species conservation expert Dr Mark Read said the humpback population has experienced a steady increase since commercial whaling stopped in the early 1960s, with recent estimates showing long-term population growth of about 11 per cent a year.

“There’s a continuous ramping up of their population, so with the increase in numbers we can expect to see them in places on the Reef where they haven’t been seen for a while,” he said.

“They don’t come here for food. They come to mate, give birth and socialise — so there’s a lot of frivolity and fun. And once they’ve chosen their annual holiday destination, it appears they stick with it and don’t go elsewhere.

“If Reef users take sensible precautions and stick to the approach distances, it minimises the potential to impact on the whale and maximises your chances of interacting with one. This can be a majestic experience.”

Dr Read said the message was simple: look out for those below.

“If you run into 15 metres and 40 tonne of whale, it’s likely your boat will come off second-best, and the whale could also be injured,” he said.

“Legally, vessels must stay at least 100 metres from whales in the Marine Park and 300 metres in the Whitsunday Whale Protection Area. It’s also a requirement to stay at least 300 metres away from a whale calf throughout the Marine Park. Disturbing a calf may cause it to stop feeding and leave its mother, and this can be dangerous if the mother feels her calf is under threat.

“If you’re complying with approach distances and whales approach you voluntarily, you’re not breaking the law. So if you’re at the right distance, turn your motor off and if they choose to come over and check you out, then that’s pretty special.’’

There are a range of other simple practices Marine Park users should follow during whale season:

  • Be alert and watch for whales at all times.
  • Reduce your vessel speed to minimise the risk of collision in areas where whales have been sighted.
  • Jet skis must stay at least 300 metres away from the animal throughout the Marine Park.
  • Be quiet when you are around a whale.
  • Do not get in the water if you see a whale — if you are already in the water do not disturb, chase or block the path of a whale and if possible, return to your vessel.
  • If there is a sudden change in whale behaviour, move away immediately.

GBRMPA encouraged Marine Park users to report whale sightings on its Sightings Network by emailing eyeonthereef@gbrmpa.gov.au or calling (07) 4750 0788.

Sick, injured, stranded or dead whales can be reported to the Marine Stranding Hotline 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625).

Name: GBRMPA Media
Contact: (07) 4750 0846