Highest number of humpback whales in more than 50 years

Recent estimates have shown the humpback population has grown by about 11% a year in the past couple of decades.
Recent estimates have shown the humpback population has grown by about 11% a year in the past couple of decades. Gary Crockett

WHALE watch operators are rejoicing at the news that the highest number of humpback whales in more than half a century are on their way to Hervey Bay.

Between 14,000 and 16,000 humpbacks are expected to make their way to southern Queensland's warm waters from July to October and schools have already been spotted off Port Douglas.

Hervey Bay is a particular hot-spot for the whales due to its calm, protected waters.

It is considered one of the top whale-watching destinations in the world.

"They don't come here for food. They come to mate, give birth and to socialise - there's a lot of frivolity and fun," said Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's Mark Read.

Recent estimates had shown the humpback population had grown by 11% a year in the past couple of decades.

"There's a continuous ramping-up of their population," Dr Read said.

"Our researchers working in Hervey Bay and Cairns have found there is an interchange of whales between the Great Barrier Reef and Hervey Bay, so it seems they have a few holiday destinations."

Jodie Lynch, owner of Blue Dolphin Marine tours, said a record number of whales was welcome news for Hervey Bay's whale-watching industry, which had recently been hit with costly legislative changes.

She said she hoped to see Fraser Coast residents as well as tourists embrace this year's whale-watching season.

"It's not hit and miss like other places, they actually come into the bay and stay for days at a time," Ms Lynch said.

"It would great to see the community really rejoice in what's on our doorstep."

Dr Read said boaties should always take sensible precautions while out on the water during whale season.

"If you run into 15m and 40 tonnes of whale, it's likely your boat will come off second-best, and the whale could also be injured," he said.

Why so many whales?

  • There has been a steady increase in numbers since commercial whaling stopped in the early 1960s
  • Recent estimates show long-term population growth of about 11% a year
  • After spending the summer feeding in the Antarctic, the humpbacks migrate to Queensland's warm waters to mate, give birth and socialise

Topics:  hervey bay whale watching

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