Port Stephens whale watching season officially launched

The whales are back and seeing them breach is a sight to behold. Photo: Bon Holmes Nuu.

PORT Stephens officially launched its whale watching season last week and the community turned out in force to enjoy the stunning antics of the gentle giants as they migrate north for the winter.

The season runs from the end of May to the beginning of October each year.

Whale watching cruises in Port Stephens were started by Imagine Cruises founder Frank Future in 1996.

“In 1996 National Parks and Wildlife estimated the east coast population was down to 1500 whales and that was still a good number as the whaling on humpbacks finished in 1986 and at that time there were only 300 left on the east coast and about the same on our west coast,” Mr Future told News Of The Area.

“Now there are up to around 40,000 whales and they are making a great recovery.

“All whaling stopped on humpbacks around eighteen years ago.”

Interestingly, a team of school girls from Port Stephens played a key role in stopping whaling in the region.

“The school girls leaned on the International Whaling Commission in a way that no one else but a bunch of school kids could have ever done,” Mr Future said.

“We trapped the chairman of the International Whaling Commission in the lift of his hotel in Anchorage, Alaska and the girls just went ballistic on him.

“It didn’t finish in the delegation, but afterwards the Chairman must have leaned on his Japanese counterpart and they removed the 50 humpbacks that they had put on their hit list for that year.

“They didn’t go whaling for them (humpbacks) after that.”

Whale watchers are now spotting different species of whales in the region, with a blue whale recently sighted off the coast of New South Wales.

“We don’t know a lot about blue whales because they were so sought after by the motorised whaling fleets that they were virtually wiped right out.

“Mostly we are seeing pygmy blues.

“Mind you, there is nothing pygmy about a 30 metre whale, given that humpbacks are around fifteen metres and blue whales are twice as long.

“We are starting to see whale populations world wide recovering, mainly in the southern hemisphere.”

Despite the resurgence, there are still threats to the whale population in our waters.

“Countries are hovering (vacuuming) krill.

“Krill is the staple and base in the food chain and the krill is being turned into krill oil.”

Mr Future has an interesting take on human consumption of the oil.

“If you want to be the size of a whale eat krill oil – don’t do it otherwise.”

Mr Future explained that the krill consumes whale excrement and the whole food chain is responding to that.

The Imagine Cruises founder is asking people to get involved in the new “whaling” – shooting images of these majestic creatures.

At the launch of the whale watching season, the industry was recognised as a very important part of the Port Stephens tourism economy.

The whales trek up the coast now and return around October; many of them accompanied with calves.

The massive marine mammals can be observed from on the water but there are also plenty of good land-based vantage points to view the whales’ antics from.

Port Stephens Mayor Ryan Palmer was on board for the launch of the season.

“Obviously here in Port Stephens the quieter months for tourism are the colder months, and to have a whale watching season here is very important.

“I mean, there is no better place in the world to see whales.

“We have upwards of 30,000 whales going up the coast at the moment and whether you go out on one of the boats or you are on shore, there is no doubt that you are going to see something pretty special.

“Community groups have put in a lot of effort.

“I know in Boat Harbour there is a whale watching spot there or you can go to Birubi… you can go almost anywhere and see some whales out there playing in the ocean which is great.

“I think we are truly or we are going to claim that we are the whale watching capital of Australia,” he said.

Mayor Palmer embraced the concept of the new whaling – shooting them with a camera – and hopes that everyone enjoys watching the whales going up the coast and coming back later in the year.


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