Hervey Bay announced as a whale heritage site - Hervey Bay whale tourism pioneer Jill Perry with the award.
Hervey Bay announced as a whale heritage site - Hervey Bay whale tourism pioneer Jill Perry with the award. Alistair Brightman

What world heritage title means for Bay's whale industry

EMOTIONS washed over whale-watching pioneer Jill Perry when Hervey Bay was declared the first ever World Whale Heritage site.

Jill, alongside husband Brian, started the first commercial whale watching business in Australia in September 1987.

She has witnessed first-hand the changes to the industry.

"To get the first ever World Whale Heritage site recognition is so important for the region,” Jill said.

"The industry has changed so much over the last 30 years and we are now seeing the benefits of all the hard work put into it.”

Brian first saw whales basking in Hervey Bay's waters during a chartered fishing tour and thought they were 'logs that moved'.

Within days he put in motion setting up the region's first commercial whale watching tour aboard the now converted Tasman Venture.

"We had no idea what we were doing at first and used our fishing charter boat for the first whale watching,” Jill said.

"We started to work with national parks and learnt about the whales and educated visitors about them.

"These animals were almost hunted to the point of extinction and when we started there were about 200 to 400 humpbacks left and now there is an estimate of 30,000 of them.”

After 31 years of whale watching charters, they retired in 2017 and sold the business to friend John Peaker, who had helped the couple with their very first tour.

The announcement that Hervey Bay had been named the world whale capital was made yesterday during the World Whale Conference.

World Cetacean Alliance founding partner Clive Martin made the announcement.

"This is a momentous day and a lot of work has gone into this moment,” Mr Martin said.

"It is a culmination of a great deal of effort on behalf of so many people.

"It was so fantastic and emotional to be able to announce this award to Hervey Bay.”

The World Whale Heritage Site accreditation scheme was started by the WCA in 2016 to recognise the best global destinations for responsible whale and dolphin watching.

To qualify, the site had to show active community engagement and tourism with marine life through art, music, science, education and celebratory events.

It also had to recognise the culture and heritage surrounding cetaceans in the local habitat.

Mr Martin also stressed the heritage site recognition was not given for life.

There would be constant ongoing assessments to ensure the high standards required were kept, he said.

The heritage site will cover an area of about 20 per cent of the 6000sq km Great Sandy Marine Park.

It will run in a line from Rooney Park to Burrum Heads and south in the Great Sandy Strait to below Big Woody Island.

More than 20,000 humpback whales migrate through the waters east of Fraser Island each year.

About 8000 make their way into the calm waters of Hervey Bay.

Fraser Coast mayor George Seymour said Hervey Bay's recognition as the world's first Whale Heritage Site was a significant coup that would turbo-charge the local tourism industry.

"This is a really proud moment for our community and recognises Hervey Bay on the world stage as part of the whale conservation movement and eco-tourism,” Cr Seymour said.

Fraser Coast Tourism and Events general manager Martin Simons said Hervey Bay had a special place as a "whale nursery” for mothers and calves.

"Hervey Bay will become an even more sought-after place globally now because of WHS accreditation,” Mr Simons said.

The application for the heritage listing included more than 300 pages of evidence and went through a rigorous vetting process.

The whale watching site of The Bluff in Durban, South Africa was named as the second accredited site.

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