Watching The Whales Go By

Australia has the distinction of being both the world’s smallest continent and the world’s biggest island. Either way, it’s completely surrounded by water! The Indian Ocean lies to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Australia’s oceans hold an incredible number of marine species, numbering over 33,000! Every kind of ocean creature imaginable inhabits Australian waters, from the tiny fish that inhabit the Great Barrier Reef to those giants of the sea, the whales!

The most numerous and well-known whale species to grace Australia’s coasts is the humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae. Every year, after a summer of feeding on krill in Antarctic waters, these charming creatures migrate around 10,000 kilometres, heading northward to Australia’s sub-tropical waters where they mate and give birth. Between April and November, the eastern coastline becomes the site of their spectacular acrobatic displays and is the perfect time to go whale watching, and Sydney being one of the best places to do it!

The exact timing of the humpback’s migration varies from year to year depending on conditions like the presence of Antarctic Sea ice, the water temperature, the risk of predation, and the location of their preferred feeding grounds. The majority of humpbacks passing through the waters of Australia migrate north from June to August, then return to the Southern Ocean from September to November. Bands of young males are at the forefront of the migration whilst pregnant cows and cow-calf pairs follow along in the rear. Adult breeding-age whales form the middle of the migration.

Once hunted, the barbaric business of whaling, either for profit or ‘research’ is forbidden in Australian waters, and replaced by whale-watching, a practise that benefits the watchers, the whales, and the environment. The Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching were developed in 2005 to minimise any impacts on whales, dolphins, and porpoises (all cetaceans) and give people an opportunity to learn about them and enjoy the amazing experience of seeing them in person. All people in Australian waters are required to follow regulations on the proper way to behave around these large, but fragile animals. For example, touching or feeding cetaceans is not allowed. Seagoing vessels must maintain a low speed and remain at least 100 metres away, although sometimes a closer look is allowed if curious whales choose to approach the vessel, which begs the question- who is watching who?

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