The Humpback highway is bustling this season with record numbers of whales again expected to traverse our beautiful Great Barrier Reef Marine Park through to September.
This year there were even a few whales keen to get a jump on their journey to our warmer waters, with reported early sightings of both Minkes and Humpbacks in the Marine Park in May.
Whale numbers continue to recover, increasing by about 10 per cent annually. This year it’s estimated about 40,000 whales will make their journey north through the Marine Park.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Acting Director of Reef Education and Engagement, Fiona Merida said it’s a special experience to catch a glimpse of these graceful giants of the deep.
“It’s a hugely exciting time along the Reef to be visited by these amazing creatures. They travel north from the Southern Ocean and will go as far as the Cooktown area. It’s a chance for them to socialise, mate and for pregnant females to give birth in our sheltered waters with a high degree of protection.”
With the number of whales in the Marine Park on the rise it’s critical that visitors to the Marine Park look out for whales, keep a safe distance, and adhere to the whale protection rules.
“Boat strikes are a serious issue for both whales and people and if you are out on the water keep an extra watch, during these special months” Ms Merida said.
“If you run into a 14 or 15-metre, 40 tonne whale, it’s likely your boat will come off second-best, and these globally protected species could be seriously injured.
“Boaties also need to be aware of not harassing mothers with calves. This causes distress and a mother may become aggressive if she feels her calf is under threat.
“They also need to remember that most of the Whitsundays is a whale protection area, which means vessels here must stay 300 metres from whales. Outside this area vessels are required by law to stay at least 100 metres from whales in the Marine Park.”
Whale safety and distances:
- Boats must stay at least 100 metres from whales in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and 300 metres from whales within the Whitsundays Whale Protection Area.
- Boats must always stay 300 metres from a whale calf.
- Jet skis must stay 300 metres away from whales.
- Planes and drones are prohibited from operating below 1000 vertical feet, or within a horizontal distance of 300 metres of a whale.
- An aircraft (including drones) must not operate below 1000 feet within a horizontal radius of 300 metres of a whale or dolphin and must not approach a whale or dolphin head on.
- Helicopters are prohibited from operating below 1650 feet or within a horizontal radius of 500m.
- Do not enter the water within 100m of a whale or 50m of a dolphin.
- If in the water and a whale approaches, do not swim towards the animal, and keep a distance of at least 30 metres. If safe to do so, return to your vessel.
- Keep a close watch out if you are travelling through the Marine Park at night.
- Penalties apply for those who fail to follow the rules.
“Common sense is always your friend in the Marine Park. Do not intentionally drive through pods. If you come across a whale or dolphin, let it control the encounter,” Ms Merida said.
“Most of all we want everyone to enjoy this magical time of year in the Marine Park, while taking the required cautions to keep both you and the whales safe.”
You can report any incidents, such as an accidental collision, through the Eye on the Reef app, the Reef Authority website, or through the dedicated telephone number.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Media: firstname.lastname@example.org I (07) 4750 0846