Marine Matters – by Phil Coulthard
As featured in the South Western Times – 30/07/15
What a wonderful sight to see two Southern Right whales basking in the sun close to the surf club last Friday. Live coverage of the visit on breakfast radio along with a consistent stream of e-mails, flickers and tweets created whale mania here in Bunbury with thousands of people cramming the beach and carparks to enjoy the whale show. Of course there was no intention of a show, they were merely resting for a few hours following a long and tiresome journey from the southern oceans of the Antarctic. Appearing not to have a care in the world, these two giants of the ocean spent hours frolicking on the surface, playfully rolling onto their backs and at times, displaying their huge pectoral fins and tail flukes. Generally, Southern Right whales spend most of their time alone or in small groups with dependant offspring, only ever forming larger groups when love is in the air and when they are within selected breeding grounds. Unfortunately, identifying where these breeding areas is proving to be a little difficult, especially considering the current population is still at critically low levels thanks to the devastation of the whaling industry which took more than 26 000 individuals out of our waters between 1822 and 1930. With recruitment rates still at extremely low levels, identifying preferred habitats and breeding areas will be an important step towards their long term recovery and experts suggest waters off the south west coast may be one of their preferences. Over the past few years a number of new born calves have been sighted in the area so sighting like last Fridays may become a lot more common in the future.
Another whale to keep your eyes open for would have to be the ever popular Humpback whale. Considered to be the poster species for whale worldwide, these athletic cetaceans are now travelling north in their tens of thousands towards their Kimberly breeding grounds. Although they too were decimated by the whaling industryand are currently listed as “vulnerable” on Australia’s official list of threatened species, they have demonstrated a remarkable recovery back to pre-whaling populations here in Australian waters and may soon be down listed from the official list of threatened species. In other words, experts believe that the Humpback whale is no longer at risk of extinction, thanks in part to the successful scientific and management actions that protected them post whaling. This is most definitely a cause for optimism and hope in world constantly bombarded with the conservation message and a reminder to our politicians and the public that conservation problems can indeed be solved should scientific and management actions that protect marine species be adopted early and remain intact for a suitable period of time. For your best chance at seeing a Humpback in the wild, head down to Flinders Bay in Augusta where whales are currently being observed from the shore as well as from tour boats every day. Naturaliste Charters are offering daily sightseeing tours from the new Augusta marina so jump on their website www.whales-australia.com.au for more information.