Watch out for whales

As whale migration season gets underway, boaties are reminded to keep a safe distance between vessels and these marine animals.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority assistant director of reef conservation actions Dr Mark Read said several whale sightings, including a humpback whale off Heron Island, were already reported via the Authority’s Eye on the Reef app.

“During June to September, humpback whales and dwarf minke whales migrate to the Reef’s warmer waters to mate, calve and socialise,” Dr Read said.

“Seeing a whale in the Marine Park is a special and memorable experience and, to ensure it happens safely, there are rules in place to protect onlookers and the whales.

“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.

“It is important boaties know the rules regarding safe approach distances between vessels and whales before they head out on the water, as boat strikes can be a serious issue for both people and whales.

“Last season there were several whale strikes and one incident near Bowen resulted in people being injured.”

Dr Read said humpback whale populations had continued to increase, with more than 30,000 expected to migrate along the east coast of Australia this season.

“Vessels must stay at least 100 metres from whales in the Marine Park and at least 300 metres in the Whitsunday Whale Protection Area,” Dr Read said.

“It’s also a requirement that they stay at least 300 metres away from a whale calf throughout the Marine Park.”

“If you are already in the water when you spot a whale, do not disturb the whale or block its path. If safe to do so, return to your vessel.

“There has been an increase in the use of drones during whale migration season, so operators need to be aware drones come under the same rules as aircraft. This means you can’t operate a drone below 1,000 vertical feet, or within a horizontal distance of 300 metres of a whale.”

Other sensible safety precautions include having an extra watch person when travelling / navigating in areas frequented by whales, reducing vessel speed and taking extra care when travelling at night.

Whale sightings can be reported to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Sightings Network using the free Eye on the Reef app — this provides valuable information for whale research and management.

Last year, there were 123 sightings of humpback whales submitted through the Eye on the Reef app.

The app can also be used to report sick, injured, stranded or dead whales, which will automatically alert wildlife rangers and rescuers to the location.

People can also call 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) to report sick, injured, stranded or dead whales.