Suppose you’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing the majesty of a humpback whale breaching the water and slapping the surface with its flippers. In that case, you’ll probably agree that the sight is unforgettable.
This year, whale watchers off the east coast of Australia are being treated to an earlier-than-normal start to whale watching season thanks to successful conservation efforts.
Humpback whale populations that migrate north from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef on a migration route known as the “humpback highway” are thriving. Dr. Wally Franklin, the Director of the Oceania Project has already reported whale sightings off the coast of Sydney, Byron Bay, Merimbula, the Gold Coast, and in more locations. Usually, the season sees its peak at the end of June and into July.
“Around 20 years ago we’d get the first one or two whales coming through about Easter time, but there was around an eighth of the number of whales that there are now,” explains Professor Mike Noad, director of the Center for Marine Science at The University of Queensland. “So one or two at Easter time now becomes 16 or 30.”
These numbers are incredibly encouraging, considering that, according to Noad, 99 percent of the humpback whale population was eliminated due to whaling. Since commercial whaling was banned in Australia in the 1960s, humpback whales have made a great comeback, from 300 whales in eastern Australia to about 40,000 humpback whales in the region today.