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Nala is a humpback whale that has won the hearts of Pacific Whale Foundation's researchers, along with those of many Australians. She is a true celebrity in the town of Hervey Bay, a picturesque seaside town in Queensland, Australia, located about three hours by car north of Brisbane. Nala was named by a group of Hervey Bay high school students in 1996, who had viewed her with a very active calf. They named her Nala, and called her calf Simba, in honor of characters from The Lion King.
Nala later won fame as an "icon" whale of Hervey Bay. The Humpback Icon Project, which began in 2009, was created to help coastal councils and their communities throughout Australia celebrate and raise awareness of the annual humpback migration along Australia's coast. When Nala is seen in Hervey Bay, it often makes local news. In fact, Nala has even found her way onto local t.v.!
Pacific Whale Foundation's researchers are very fond of Nala because we've seen her so frequently -- on at least 37 different occasions over the course of 22 years! She is also one of our favorites because she is a prolific mom.
A whale like Nala is especially valued when you consider the history of whales eastern Australia. It is estimated that before the days of whaling, about 40,000 whales migrated along this coast each year. Commercial whaling began here in the 1950s and quickly decimated the population of humpback whales to the point of near-extinction. By 1962, the whale population had crashed. Some researchers estimate that only about 100 whales remained. Nala's ancestors were probably among those 100 survivors.
Fortunately, an international moratorium on commercial whaling has allowed the gradual recovery of the whales. Forty-five years later (in 2007), the population of eastern Australian humpback whales was estimated to be between 8,500 and 11,000 whales. This is still a fraction of the humpback whales that were originally found here, but thanks to whales like Nala, the population trend is moving in the right direction!
Most humpbacks give birth on average of every two years, Nala is one of the few animals actually capable of falling into a “postpartum estrum” and conceiving year to year. Not only has she been sighted with a young calf in back to back years, but our research team has also documented this unique animal with a young calf three years in a row.
To understand our sightings of Nala, you'll want to look at the enclosed map and consider the migratory patterns of the population of east Australian whales. These whales feed around Antarctica in the southern ocean waters. Around May, they leave their feeding area and travel up the eastern Australian coastline towards the Great Barrier Reef. The whales disperse around the Great Barrier Reef and breed in warm tropical waters. After mating or giving birth, the whales migrate back along the coast towards Antarctic from September through November.
Hervey Bay is a wide bay located along their migratory pathway. At least some of the migrating whales stop in Hervey Bay, usually for a period of a few days. Our researchers see many mothers and calves in this beautiful, relatively calm bay. As you'll see from our sightings report, Hervey Bay is a place that's well frequented by Nala.
The Whitsunday Islands are located north of Hervey Bay. Eden is located far to the south, near the southeastern edge of Australia. The Whitsunday Islands and Eden are located along the migratory route.
Our sightings of Nala include:
- 1988 – Nala was sighted with a calf in Hervey Bay.
- 1991 – Again, Nala was viewed with a calf in Hervey Bay.
- 1996 – During this year, Nala was observed three times during the season in Hervey Bay. She had a calf with her during all three times. At one point, she was part of a pod that included her own calf, another mother and another calf -- four whales in all!
- 1997 – Nala was observed twice in Hervey Bay with subadult whales (whales that have not yet reached sexual maturity).
- 1998 – This year was a banner year for our researchers. Nala was seen with a calf in the Whitsunday Islands in July, Hervey Bay in August and September and in Eden in October.
- 1999 – Nala had a calf with her this year, when she was observed three times in Hervey Bay and in Eden.
- 2000 – Nala again had a calf. She was seen with the calf on four occasions, in Hervey Bay.
- 2002 – Nala had given birth to another calf! She was observed with her calf in Hervey Bay on seven occasions.
- 2006 – Once again, Nala had a calf. She was sighted with her calf in Hervey Bay at six different times. During those times she was in a multiple mother-calf pod with between 4 and 5 animals and at least 2 calves.
- 2008 – Nala was sighted in Hervey Bay for a total of five times. During three of those sightings, she was in a pod of four to five animals. Each time, it was a different group of whales.
- 2009 – Nala was found in Eden on October 17, with a calf and perhaps another adult. The other adult may have been a male escort, hoping to mate with her.
- 2010 - On September 10, Nala was sighted again by our researchers in Hervey Bay.
- 2015 – Nala was sighted on September 1ST and 6th in Hervey Bay and the Pacific Whale Foundation research team was ecstatic to make the match one again. Nala is one of the oldest whales in our research catalog and has had over 10 calves! This year she was sighted doing “tail-up feeding” with a new calf.
Nala's feeding area is in the southern ocean around Antarctic, where Japanese whaling ships are lobbying to hunt whales. As you can imagine, killing a prolific breeder like Nala would be detrimental to the recovery of the whale population in this region. Pacific Whale Foundation's work to prevent whaling in the southern ocean includes sharing our data with the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission and the Southern Ocean Resource Partnership, attending the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting, and mobilizing our friends and supporters to speak out against whaling. We thank you for your help in protecting Nala and all whales.
Sighting Map of Nala