Humpbacks and other marine animals soon to be visible in our waters

A majestic humpback whale was pictured just off Mount Coolum in 2019 while migrating along the ‘humpback highway’.  File photo: Mike Drinkwater  

IT HAS been nicknamed the ‘humpback highway’ but there is more going on beneath the surface during the annual migration than the spectacular recovery of a threatened species. 

There are more than 30 species of marine mammals known to inhabit the waters off the Queensland coast, with many of those species whales or dolphins. 

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Strandings Coordinator Dr Owen Coffee said the annual migration of humpbacks was a celebration of a species that was almost wiped out due to unregulated hunting. 

“The first whales should be seen in Queensland waters soon as they embark on their annual sea change into warmer waters,” Dr Coffee said. 

“Humpbacks have spent months in the cold southern waters fattening up for their trek north where they will breed and birth in the warmer waters. 

“When hunting stopped in the sixties, their population was estimated at around 500, and it has now increased to more than 30,000. 

“This is a magnificent achievement for conservation, and thousands of people are expected to take part in a whale-watching tour later this year.” 

Seeing whales breaching while on a tour or from the beach is exhilarating and many people who see the creatures up close from a boat are simply awestruck by their sheer size.   

“During the migration, boaties will be sharing the water with the humpback whales, and these 40-tonne mammals can behave unpredictably by surfacing at any moment, by launching themselves out of the water or nudging boats out of curiosity. 

“Boaties can reduce the risks by watching the ocean around them, observing approach limits and by understanding that whales will still be on the move at night.” 

Dr Coffee said people may be surprised by the number of whale and dolphin species that share Queensland waters with humpback whales. 

“From January 2021 to December 2023 we recorded strandings for 15 different species up and down the Queensland coast,” he said. 

“Humpbacks, by far, are the most famous of the whale species for their migration from waters off Antarctica, but other species move up and down our coast. 

“Sadly, some of them strand and die, and they include sperm whales, false killer whales, pilot whales, Bryde’s whales and minke whales and sadly in 2013 a pod of killer whales stranded near the Wide Bay, with at least three of them dying.” 

These other species may not be in the same migratory numbers as the iconic humpbacks, but they are out there.  

“During the annual migration, keep a look out for whales in the water and observe the approach limits and speed limits.” 

Marine strandings should be reported to the department as soon as possible by calling 1300 130 372 

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