Humpback whales make their presence known along Australia’s east coast every year, between April and November, as they migrate to go mate and give birth after a summer of feasting on krill in the Antarctic. This makes for a unique opportunity for residents of the surrounding coastal towns and visitors all across Australia. A one-of-a-kind whale-watching where tens of thousands pass by, many within plain sight!
Catching a Glimpse
The wide range of months that humpback whales can be spotted making their way across the eastern coastline of Australia is due to the variation each year, usually influenced by water temp and the conditions of their feeding grounds when they are down under. The first appearances, the young males, are usually in June closely followed by pregnant whales with calves in tail. Fully grown adult males fill in the gaps in the middle of the migration. You can quickly identify humpback groups of younger males by their playful behavior and dynamic jumps out of the water. The last whale sights are usually in November, when the whales are migrating back home.
A Lucky Sight
Humpback whales were nearly driven to extinction at the height of whaling from the 19th century and into the height of the 20th century. After the International Whaling Commission banned humpback whaling, the humpback whale population was reduced to less than 5% of their original numbers. Experts believe that if the ban were a year later, the numbers may have been too low for the humpback to ever recover. Thankfully, that isn’t the case, now the humpback whales have grown tremendously in population size since the 1960s when they were still illegally hunted enmass.
Making it Count
Researchers continue to track the population growth, thanks in part by the Australian public’s volunteers who go whale watching every year to count whales from sunrise to sunset. With oversight from scientists and expert whale watchers, the community volunteers are able to get a good count on the many thousands of humpback whales that migrate each year along Australia’s east coast.
Sydney, Eden, Port Stephens, Narooma and Byron Bay in New South Wales are some of the most popular gatherings for whale watchers, while volunteer counting is mostly focused in smaller gathers at places like Cape Solander in the south of Botany Bay and Cape Byron Lighthouse in the Cape Byron State Conservation Area. Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia holds official census gather for both population numbers and any noticeable changes of health or behavior of whales.
This season the humpback whale tally is expected to reach over 30,000 members. What an incredible story of resilience for these beautiful animals.