It’s a whale of a time in Port Stephens as the ‘Humpback Highway’ kicks into gear

A breaching whale off Port Stephens. Photo: Bonita Holmes-Nu’u.

THE launch of the annual whale watching season was celebrated at Nelson Bay and off the heads of Port Stephens last week.

Worimi Elder Uncle John Ridgeway OAM provided a welcome to country to open the event.

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Uncle John’s welcome was followed by a smoking ceremony performed by Justin Ridgeway.

The whale watching industry continues to bring international tourism to the region in big numbers to witness the humpback whales up close.

Destination Port Stephens Chief Executive Officer Stephen Keogh said nature-related tourism continues to grow in the region.

“It is the biggest drawcard,” he said, “it puts 60 billion dollars into the Australian economy.”

Imagine Cruises founder Frank Future is undertaking his 28th whale watching season in Port Stephens this year.

“Port Stephens is known as the Humpback Highway as the whales travel in close on their journey north taking advantage of the currents,” he said.

Whale watching forms a large part of the Port Stephens winter tourism offering, but it is so much more than that.

For long-term tour operators it is a celebration of the humpback whale species’ return from the brink of extinction.

“When we started here 28 years ago there were only 1,500 whales, but now there’s over 40,000.

“We are also seeing whale sharks, and orcas.

“I believe that there are 20 or so just south of here.

“There’s not too many good news conservation stories in the world today but the recovery of the whale population and all the other animals that are allied to it is one of them,” he said.

Ahead of the launch, some feared the event may be hijacked by anti-wind farm demonstrators.

While theirs was a definite presence at the launch, it remained a respectful event highlighting the importance of the arrival of the majestic whales to our coastline.

Mr Future believes the best way to witness the whales in action is from the deck of one of the whale watching boats, however he also stated there are excellent vantage points along the coast where the whales’ antics can be seen.

The new Tomaree Coastal Walk has several lookouts where the whales can be seen as they cruise north to warmer waters.


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