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- Abundance, Survival, Recruitment, and Realized Growth Rates of East Australia Humpback Whales
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In the Presence of Whales
We first discovered humpback whales in 1987. Or perhaps they found us. Either way from that fateful day in August we have fallen in love with the humpbacks of Hervey Bay.
No, they are not a different species of humpback whales – they are just ‘different’. Something magical happens when the whales leave their migratory pathway and divert into the shallow protected waters found on the inside of Fraser Island, a World Heritage site.
The average water depth in the Bay is about 40 feet. The bottom is white sand, and there is a 3-meter tide that runs daily. The water appears clear, but for the most part it is murky due to the large tide and stirred up sand. When the humpbacks are on their migratory run, they swim fairly constantly, at about 2-3 knots, and surface every 4-6 minutes. When they enter Hervey Bay they become extremely social and curious.
In August and early September, the bay is littered with large resting females, yearlings and subbies. And for some (yet) unknown reason they love to associate with boats. “Mugging’ or ‘sticky’ whales are common on every whalewatch trip. These are not just chance encounters that last a few fleeting moments. These are close encounters of the 2+-hour kind. Whales rolling under vessels, doing head rises, tilting their heads and raising their eyes above the water’s surface. It appears that they are really intent on watching us, as we are they.
It usually takes about 45 minutes to get to where the whales congregate, verses 10-15 minutes of Maui. But when you find the whales, the encounters in Hervey Bay can leave you breathless and out of memory on your digital camera. This time of the year the Bay is filled with whales as mothers with their newborn calves have also begun to arrive. And while the moms were skittish off Port Douglas and the Whitsundays, they seem to have not a care in world about our presence in Hervey Bay.
There are so many whales that we are spending 5-6 hours per day in the presence of whales, verses 30 minutes in Port Douglas. Breaching, pec slaps, peduncle throws, head slaps, singing – you name the behavior and you will likely see it.
But don’t take my word for it; take a look at some of the video clips and photos from the past few days.
P.S.: Sorry about not posting daily, but we have no Internet access at our research house. We rise and 6:00am, depart at 7 and return at 6 pm, and then do data entry until 11 pm and get up and do it all over again. There has been no time to find an Internet cafe! Check out our Facebook page, we can download some images from the field from our IPhone as they happen.