The History Of Whales
Whaling was a primary industry in Australia during the 18th Century when whale oil, blubber and baleen were considered highly valuable, used in perfumes, candles and other products. The development of harpoon guns, explosives and steam-driven whaling boats made whaling so efficient that commercial whaling stations were built all along the east coast including one at Byron Bay and Moreton Island. Greed and excessive fishing of the whales led to the demise of the industry and a rapid decline of the whale population in Australian waters.
A change in public opinion and protection for whale species saw commercial whaling cease in Australia by 1978 followed by the International Whaling Commission moratorium that was put in place in 1986. Since then Australia has adopted an anti-whaling policy and has advocated for the international protection of all whale species. The ban has seen Australia’s whale population boom again with an estimated 35,000 whales making the annual migration to Queensland from Antarctica.
The Humpback Whale Journey
Every year between April and November Australia’s East Coast is transformed into a ‘Humpback Highway’ as the whales begin their journey north from their home in Antarctica to escape the harsh winter temperatures and retreat to the warmer sub-tropical waters of Australia. The cold Antarctic winters aren’t the only reason for the migration, however as the journey marks an essential moment in the lifecycle of a Humpback Whale as they prepare to breed and birth their young calves in Australia.
The first step in this important cycle begins in the summer months which are spent eating and bulking up in order to sustain their energy for the 10, 000 kilometre long return journey away to Eastern Australia. As April approaches, the longest mammal migration in history begins with the young males leading the pack followed by the pregnant females and their young calves trailing behind.
The Humpback Whales can first be spotted in Queensland waters from May to August when they are travelling north to Cairns to frolic and give birth to their calves before turning around and beginning the trek back to the Southern Ocean from September to November. A whale watching cruise is an unforgettable way to experience these graceful giants in their natural habitat creating memories that will last a lifetime and with a beautiful backdrop of the Gold Coast skyline.
A whale watching cruise is a magical ocean encounter not just because of the sheer size of a Humpback Whale but also because these curious and majestic creatures are very active in the water displaying a range of spectacular behaviours that make spotting them an exciting experience. At up to 16 metres long and weighing nearly 40 tonnes, it is an impressive feat that these gentle giants can launch their bodies out of the water at any moment.
Experts believe that these incredible behavioural traits help the whales to orientate themselves to the shoreline and communicate with other whales but we also think it is a good old case of showing off to their adoring fans on whale watching vessels nearby.
Here are some key whale behaviours to keep an eye out for when you are out whale watching:
The famous blow is one of the tell tale signs to look for when scanning the horizon for a whale. Whales will blow excess water high into the air as they approach the surface of the water.
Blink and you might miss it as whales thump their tail and launch themselves out of the water falling backwards with an almighty splash.
A fluke up signals that a whale is taking a deep dive and will lift the tail fluke into the air on the way down. Their flukes then leave a greasy film on the surface of the water known as a footprint.
Curious Humpback Whales will often pop their heads out of the water and hold themselves in a vertical position in order to have a good look around at you and position themselves to the shoreline.
A fin or tail slap is a method to communicate with other whales. The noisy slap attracts attention and can be heard from 4 kilometres away.