Whale migration season is well on its way on the eastern seaboard. The first humpback whales of the season, a mother and a juvenile, have already been spotted as early as May off Moreton Island near Brisbane. Generally, the Australian whale season starts of in June and lasts to October, with some late whales being spotted in November.
Here’s a quick Q&A about the migration of whales:Q: Where do they come from? A: Antarctica, where they feed on the abundance of krill in the cold waters Q: Why do they migrate? A: When the waters in Antarctica turn into icebergs, the whales go to more temperate waters to mate and give birth, as young calves have not enough fat to keep them warm. This migration starts in autumn. Q: Where do they breed? A: In the tropical waters of Queensland, Western Australia and a bit further north. Q: How many whale species are there in Australia? A: About 20 species of whales have been sighted off Australian coasts; a few of them are unknown types. Q: Are they endangered species? A: Yes, most whales are. Australia is a world leader in the conservation and protection of Cetacean (the scientific name for whales, dolphins and porpoises) conservation, both locally as internationally. Q: When do the whales leave again? A: From September to December the whales return to the polar waters to feed. Q: How can I spot whales? A: Whales appear close to coast of Australia. You can spot them from the shore or from an organised whale watching boat tour if you want to get closer. Look for clouds of spray or mist that indicate an exhaling whale. Often you can see them slap their flukes on the surface (called lobtailing), or spyhopping, (sticking their heads up with their upper body out of the water), and even jump out of the water (which is called breaching). Whales are also known to be inquisitive. They approach boats, dive under them and get real close sometimes.
WHERE TO GO
The two most common whales that you can spot from the shore are Humpback Whales and Southern Right Whales.
Popular locations to spot humpback whales are:
- Stradbroke Island, near Brisbane: Queensland
- Hervey Bay on the central east coast of Queensland
- The Ningaloo Marine Park, off Exmouth and Shark Bay in WA
- Point Hicks and Cape Byron in New South Wales
Popular locations to spot Southern Right whales are:
- Cape Leeuwin and other bays in southern WA
- Cliffs of the Great Australian Bight, SA
- The Otway Coast off southern Victoria
- Storm Bay, off southern Tasmania
Swimming with whales Generally speaking you are not allowed to scuba dive or snorkel within 30m distance of a whale. The exception is made for Dwarf Minke Whales, due to their large numbers. A limited number of reef tourism operators based in Port Douglas and Cairns have been granted permits by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to conduct swims with whales. However, they have to follow a Code of Practice and assist with a monitoring program to report whale sightings.
Whale songs When Scuba Diving in waters where whales breed, you can sometimes hear whale songs which reverberate for kilometres. The songs consists of distinct sequences of high pitched squeals, groans, roars, sighs and moans that may last up to 10 minutes or longer. As Baleen whales don’t have vocal chords, it is unknown how whale songs are produced. It is assumed that whales communicate with these songs, to warn other whales, to identify each other and to navigate.