- Queensland whale migration season runs between June and November
- This year’s season started and ended early, with unusual migration patterns recorded
- While there have been plenty of whales, there have been fewer tourists for whale watching industry
Three humpback whale bulls — one of which has a hi-tech camera attached to its back — fight for the affection of a female.
“What this male was doing was just going from one group of whales to another,” manager of Griffith University’s Whales and Climate Program Dr Olaf Meynecke said.
“Just creating stress. Basically just being the boss and showing off.”
Dr Meynecke’s team captured the vision with a suction-cap camera off the Gold Coast last month, at the end of a season marked by unusual migration patterns.
Weather pattern brings short season
Dr Meynecke said Queensland’s whale migration season started and finished several weeks earlier than usual, with a “sharp decline in numbers” passing the Gold Coast by mid-October.
“We’ve got these fluctuations that happen every couple of years, which we’ve seen with previous data we’ve already had over the past 10 years,” he said.
“There’s this variation with El Niño and La Niña events and this seems to be the driver for these changes.
“This year it was quite strong … we didn’t have that extreme five or seven years ago when we had our last La Niña event.”
A shifting East Australian Current (EAC) — which serves as a navigation tool for migrating humpbacks — meant humpbacks were moving further offshore.
But Dr Meynecke said whales might be moving further south earlier to search for food.
“We’re thinking they may take advantage of possible better chances to get food during La Niña years,” he said.
“This causes a problem for mums and calves of course because they have some very young calves that can’t go down south that quickly because they’re too small.”
Tours place bets on 2022
Manager of Sea World Cruises, Anthony Ardern said 2021 has been a tough year, with fewer tourists on their whale tours.
“We’ve had predominantly border shutdowns the entire way through this winter period, this whale watch season,” he said.How did humpbacks recover?From barely a few hundred, more than 40,000 humpbacks now migrate through Australian watersCheynes Beach Whaling Company – harpoon gun firing (1).Read more
The humpback population has made a remarkable recovery since commercial finishing was phased out 60 years ago.
Once just a few hundred strong, it’s estimated the east coast population now boasts between 27,000 to 35,000 humpbacks.
While COVID-19 hasn’t hassled the whales, Mr Ardern said he has placed his hopes in a bumper 2022 season.
“We’ve been relying for the last two seasons on ultra local markets, so Brisbane and Gold Coast and that’s it,” he said.
“The market is pretty well exhausted now so we’re looking forward to the borders being opened.”