Marine Matters – by Phil Coulthard
As featured in the South Western Times – 27/07/16
Thar she blows captain, the whales are back! Reports of the first whale sighting off Bunbury occurred on the weekend marking what experts believe to be the busiest whale migration on record. Over the next four months more than 30,000 humpback whales will undertake one of the longest migratory journeys of any mammal on Earth, travelling up to 5000 kilometers from the cold Antarctic feeding grounds in the south to the warm tropical waters of the Kimberly’s in the north where their babies will be born. For those who wish to see these giants cruising our coastline, an incredible hotspot for whale activity at the moment is Flinders Bay in Augusta. Early reports from Naturaliste Charters (www.whales-australia.com.au) support the prediction of a busy season with an impressive number of whales already logged since their whale watching tours began in mid-May. Unlike many locations along our coast, the shallow, protected waters of Flinders Bay appears to be an important social stop for the whales during their northern migration. Adult males in particular use the area to assert their dominance over other males and hopefully attract the attention of an available female at the same time! With their bellies full of Antarctic krill and their energy levels at an all-year high, the boys have been displaying an incredible amount of activity with Naturaliste Charters crew reporting plenty of breaches, spy hops, lunges and tail slaps close to the boat most days.
Southern Right whale have also kept things very interesting with reports of a white new born calf generating plenty of excitement. Although the baby whale isn’t an albino by definition and will eventually go darker in colour with age, this is still a very rare event and one that deserves a lot of attention. Most of the mum and calf pairs only stay in the area for a short time to build up their baby’s strength and thicken their blubber layer so the best time for those keen to see them close to the coast will be over the next few weeks.
For local boat owners who are lucky enough to come across whales when out on the water remember to stay well clear of them and never intentionally approach them from directly in front. There are some simple whale watching guidelines that by law are in place to promote both your safety, and the safety of the whale so go to www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/management/marine/marine-wildlife/64-whales-and-dolphins for more information. As a simple rule of thumb, ensure you remain at a distance of at least 100m from a whale and if a whale approaches your vessel, either place the motor in neutral or move slowly away. A fully grown Humpback Whale can weigh up to 45 tonnes and may inflict serious injury or death, especially if they are highly active at the time or if a calf is present. Also remember to stay well clear of whales that appear to be in trouble, are entangled in ropes or nets, or stranded in shallow water. They are by far the most dangerous so call the DPAW Wildcare Helpline on 9474 9055 with information on the whale’s situation, condition and location and wait for further instructions.
The whales are back! Reports of the first whale sighting off Bunbury occurred on the weekend marking what experts believe to be the busiest whale migration on record. Check out the latest Marine Matters
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