Carrie Davis describes seeing her first adult humpback whale of the season launching out of the water off the coast of Sydney last week as magical.
“It’s just this feeling of awe to see this fat whale of that size get all that body out of the water,” said Davis of Go Whale Watching in Sydney. “No matter how many times you see it, it always takes your breath away.”
The annual procession of humpback whales migrating north from their summer feeding grounds in Antartica to warmer waters in the Great Barrier Reef has begun.
Sydneysiders can look forward to another bumper season, which spans May to July, of whales performing tail and dorsal fin slaps, breaches and head lunges, with an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 whales expected to pass the east coast.
Davis said a boat trip was the best way to spot a whale so viewers could see the giants perform their acrobatics up close. The whales can also often be spotted from any headland.
Any time of day was good for catching a glimpse, she said, but viewers will have the most luck on a stormy day when whales breach the most.
So far, Davis said, the whale-watching crews have mostly spotted juvenile humpbacks off the coast of Sydney as they race ahead of the pack.
“They’re full of beans, they’re really excited, and they’re really fat from getting their feed in Antartica,” she said. “We don’t get the pregnant mummas until the end because they want to eat as much as they can before they leave.”
Prof Mike Noad, director of the Centre of Marine Studies at the University of Queensland, said it was difficult to know how many humpback whales there were given the last major survey of the population was conducted in 2015.
But humpback whale populations have boomed since commercial whaling was banned in the region in the 1960s and an estimated 300 Australian humpback whales remained.
Last year humpback whales were struck from the threatened species list. But this drew the ire of a number of scientists due to the threats the species continues to face such as the climate crisis.
Davis said the whale-watching season slightly dipped in August but ramped up again from September to November as the animals returned south with their babies in tow. This is when the far south coast of New South Wales, particularly around Merimbula at Eden, becomes the best place to catch a glimpse of the giants.
“Whales really respond to noise and you can imagine that Darling Harbour is like a speaker phone, so much noise is channelled out of there and into the ocean, so they love to rest with their babies around Green Cape as they head south.”