Off the coast of Sydney, the winter period of June to August is rush hour on the “humpback highway”, as thousands of whales migrate from Antarctica to sub-tropical breeding grounds such as Hervey Bay in Queensland.
A record-breaking number of whales – up to 18,000 – are
expected to make the 10,000km
round-trip journey this year -- 10% more than in
2011. And statistics gathered by national parks officials, commercial fisherman
and local whale watching companies point to a steady rise in numbers over the
last few years, which is in turn attracting larger numbers of tourists.
On a four-hour
trip with Sydney Whale Watching,
one of the many companies that offers whale watching tours along Australia’s
eastern coast, travellers can have a brief but enchanting encounter with the magnificent
creatures, which can grow up to 18m long and weigh 45 tonnes. The whales, including
mothers and their newborns, can also be spotted as they make
the long trip back to the icy waters of the Southern Ocean between September and
generally very relaxed and sometimes they come right up close to the boat,”
explained tour guide Jonas Liebschner. “What we do is actually make a
little bit of noise on the boat, so we stamp our feet and sometimes I feel like
the whale is actually answering to that. You can see the whale slapping
its tail and doing all sorts of stuff.”
numbers are still recovering after humpbacks were widely hunted and slaughtered
by commercial whalers for much of the 20th Century. Australia
abandoned commercial hunting in the late 1970s, and since then has become a
vociferous critic of Japan’s still-operating scientific whaling program. “One of the main arguments against commercial
whaling is that the whale watching is a far more sustainable and far more
profitable business,” said Will Ford, a director of Whale Watching Sydney.
distance from the sandstone cliffs that guard the entrance to Sydney Harbour a
frolicking humpback put on an acrobatic display. It propelled its hulking frame
out of the battleship-grey waters and twisted through the air, before crashing
back into the white surf.
Alex, a 12-year-old who had travelled with his family from Perth in Western
Australia, was taken aback. “It is the first whale I’ve ever seen,” he cried.
And thanks to the growing numbers, even more visitors will have the chance to glimpse
some of nature’s most captivating performers on one of the planet’s great