Humpbacks cruise our coasts on their annual migration

Posted on Posted in Marine

While Dan was diving off the coast of the Whitsundays last week, he was thrilled to hear the eerie, resonating call of a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Can’t believe it’s that time of the year again, already!

By now, humpbacks are done riding it out in the freezing Antarctic waters, and have begun cleverly making their way north along our east and west coasts to frolic in our warm temperate waters.

Humpback whale breaching (Photo by W. Welles)

Typically, the humpbacks start arriving on the east coast around April each year and are usually spotted from Sydney to Port Douglas; wowing on-lookers with their acrobatic breaching displays.

Their migration path is one of the longest in the animal kingdom, up to 13,000kms over 3 months, and forms an integral part of the humpbacks lifecycle.

While the Southern Ocean offers a rich food supply for the whales, our warm coastal waters provide the ideal habitat for birthing and nurturing whale calves. Our alluring coastline also makes a perfect romantic playground for the humpbacks to secure a mate, before heading home to the frigid Antarctic in August/September.

(Photo courtesy of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

But it’s not just the onset of the migration that has Humpbacks in the spotlight lately. On the good side – after centuries of suffering at the hands of whalers who decimated populations, humpback numbers are definitely on the rise. Their IUCN listing has moved from vulnerable to least concern, meaning the species is now considered to be at a lower risk of extinction.

Record numbers of humpbacks are expected to make the journey north this year, including the famous white whale Migaloo who was spotted near Fraser Island last week.

On the bad side – a recently discovered skin condition appears to be spreading throughout our humpback populations. Scientists know very little about the condition that causes lesions on the humpbacks skin, but are trying to determine the cause. Poor health can make whales even more vulnerable to the everyday threats they face such as ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, habitat deterioration, declining prey and noise disturbance.

Humpback whale migration map (Figure courtesy of www.abc.net.au/oceans/whales)

DERM and DECCW have put the call out to the community to be on the lookout for stranded whales, and in particular, to note any whales with unusual skin blemishes.

If you live (or holiday) near the whale migration path, or you’re planning on embarking on a whale watching adventure soon, get your binos out and pay extra close attention!

Click here to learn more and support important research which helps protect one of our most majestic marine creatures. Click here to report your whale sighting; or report a sick or stranded whale.

One thought on “Humpbacks cruise our coasts on their annual migration

  1. wow Dan you are so lucky to have heard the calling of a humpback whale. I’ve dived many times during migration within areas frequented by these awesome creatures but NEVER have been fortunate to hear calling. I’m sure you know how lucky you are!

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