Hundreds of people have taken to the water on their boards at Queensland’s Hervey Bay for a minute’s silence to remember whales lost due to hunting.
While research shows humpback whale numbers are growing in Australia, the people of Hervey Bay remain passionate about protecting the animals and want to send a clear message they don’t support whaling through the Paddle Out for Whales event.
“So from 2010 we’ve celebrated the whales returning to Hervey Bay with the Paddle Out it’s become a real conservation day cause we also remember that whales are still being hunted in this day and age,” says Vicki Neville Hervey Bay whale conservation pioneer.
Another passionate whale conservationist is Dr Wally Franklin a whale researcher from the Oceania Project who along with his wife Dr Trish Franklin, has studied the humpbacks of Hervey Bay for more than 20 years.
Dr Franklin says there’s no place in the world like Hervey Bay for watching humpbacks, “there’s a fundamental reason Hervey Bay in Queensland is one of the best whale watching areas in the world. When the humpback whales come in to Hervey Bay they actually pause in their migration and spend on average two weeks in the bay. While they’re there doing all these social behaviours important to them it’s very entertaining to us.”
His work has found the numbers of east coast humpbacks is growing by 14%, twice the rate of an average recovering population. It’s a figure that stunned whale experts who study other colonies around the world.
“The recovery has gone from 150 whales that survived whaling in the early 1960’s to in the last 40 to 50 years they’ve recovered to 23,000 but we can’t rest on our laurels because they’re only halfway to where they were,” says Dr Franklin.
Dr Franklin and his wife discovered 34% of Australian east coast humpbacks visit Hervey Bay annually, which equates to almost 8000 whales calling in to the area.
The Oceania Project research has found the calm shallow waters of the bay are playing a pivotal role in the increase in humpback numbers. Hervey Bay is effectively a giant whale kindergarten where mothers teach their calves the life skills they need to survive that first long journey to Antarctica.
“They spend about 70% of their time alone with their calf involved in feeding nurturing and resting. The training activity is spectacular and important part of whale watching in the bay,” says Dr Franklin.
And it’s that training and socialisation which results in some of the most breathtaking surface whale watching opportunities in the world.
Unlike many whale-watching experiences, at Hervey Bay, pods will freely interact with tour vessels, with the same adult females spotted annually with their calves.
“The bay, the location, the opportunity for the social interaction is crucial to the survival of the whales and their recovery. On the other hand the classes of whales and variety of behaviours is also what makes Hervey Bay’s surface whale watching opportunities globally unique,” says Dr Franklin
In the Paddle Out for Whales ceremony, board riders observed a minute’s silence and threw flowers in to the water. Those without boards lined the shore taking part in the event. From children on inflatable whales, to board riders with their dogs on the water, the moving ceremony attracted whale lovers from all walks of life including Michelle Fisher a local Marine Science Teacher.
“We think it very important to learn about the significance of the whales and how they do populate the area and all the science behind it and all the history and encourage those young generations coming up in our local area to understand the importance of those whales in the area,” says Michelle.
For whale conservationists like Dr Franklin it’s a special day “The Paddle Out for Whales is one of the focal celebrations for the return of these whales and a reminder that we need to keep looking after these whales. They’re a treasure and they do need to be cared for and protected and Hervey Bay and Queensland are doing that.”
For more information:
Hannah Statham, Tourism and Events Queensland
T: +61 (0)7 3535 5622, M: +61 (0)411 085 226