With the whale migration season well underway for 2017, whale-watching enthusiasts and visitors to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are reminded to keep a safe distance, for the safety of the whales and onlookers.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority operations support manager Dr Mark Read said thousands of humpback whales migrate to the Reef’s warmer waters around this time of year to mate, calve and socialise.
“The humpback whale population has been increasing steadily for the last 40 to 50 years, with an estimated 30,000 whales expected to migrate along the east coast of Australia this season,” he said.
“With this population increase it has become increasingly important for people to abide by approach distances — there are more whales around, more people out on the water and whale watching is more popular.
“We’ve also seen an increase in drone users in the Marine Park which has resulted in an influx of great aerial photos of whales, however visitors must remember safe approach distance rules still apply to drones; as it currently stands they are considered aircraft.
“Aircraft including drones are prohibited from operating below 1000 vertical feet, or within a horizontal distance of 300m of a whale.”
A recent interaction between a humpback whale and a Whitsundays fishing vessel left several people hospitalised, highlighting the need for people to be mindful of safe boating practices during whale season.
“Posting an extra watch person when in areas frequented by whales, reducing speed, and taking extra care when travelling at night are some of the simple things people can do to reduce the risk,” Dr Read said.
“Boat strikes are a serious issue for both the whales and people, and we want Marine Park users to take extra caution on the water during whale season.”
This season has also seen a number of humpback whale strandings.
“As with any wild population, a certain number of deaths can be expected, and some will be calves. Whale calves are sometimes separated from their mothers and become stranded,” Dr Read said.
“Unfortunately natural strandings do happen, and will occur more frequently as the humpback population continues to increase.”
Marine Park users can report sick, injured, stranded or dead whales using the free Eye on the Reef app which will automatically alert wildlife rangers and rescuers to the location using the app's GPS function. You can also email or call 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625).
Whale sightings can also be reported to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Sightings Network using the Eye on the Reef App.
Key points to remember:
- Know the law — 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, who may become aggressive if she feels her calf is under threat.
- 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 animals throughout the Marine Park.
- 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.
Further information about responsible Reef practices is available here.