A whale watcher’s dream: Record numbers of whales expected in 2020
It is undeniable – 2020 has been quite the year of absurdity, confusion and chaos. We can, however, look forward with great anticipation to the annual migration of humpback whales passing through our local waters. With the world somewhat on pause, air and surface level water pollution has dropped significantly. We are now expecting the humpback whale population to be around 40,000 this year. This is where scientists estimate the population was prior to World War II. In the 1960s there were only about 150 whales left, so we are very privileged to have this group in 2020.
In the midst of social distancing, working remotely and studying online, a chance to be out in the fresh air and sunshine is well deserved. This year, whales were spotted in Port Macquarie heading north as early as April. Now, the Humpback Highway is experiencing rush hour, and the Gold Coast Bay is every humpback’s favourite pitstop. The main migration usually starts in June. These whales are heading north to the tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef for mating and calving, and continue to pass by the Gold Coast in July and August.
After a brief pause, we are then treated to the same whales returning south – but this time, with their little calves! The young ones will be eager to show off their newly learned skills while they try to keep up with their mums. The whales will continue their journey south for a couple of months, all the way to the deep Southern Ocean and back to their feeding grounds in Antarctic waters. Here they will feed on a rich supply of Antarctic krill – the preference of East Australian humpback whales. The southern migration through Gold Coast waters lasts from September until November. This migration pattern to the north and then to the south is a constant in the whales’ lives. Many whales do this big swim every single year.
This year we are expecting even larger numbers of whales than recorded last year. We are very lucky to have one of the strongest recovering populations of whales off our coasts. Whaling was once common in Australia, but was thankfully banned in 1963. Another factor assisting in this recovery is that the entire coastline of Australia is designated as a whale sanctuary. Much of the Southern Ocean is also considered a sanctuary, and therefore hunting is not permitted. It is the combination of these protective measures that has allowed our whale populations to flourish.
If you (like most of us) have been cooped up at home for the past few months, why not hop aboard one of our state-of-the-art vessels and observe some humpback whales on their migration journeys. 2020 has been a strange year for many, but a day on the beautiful waters of the Gold Coast is enough to redeem any bizarreness.