A Whale-Size Surprise

Hervey Bay is home to some of the smoothest, calmest waters known to the entire east coast of Australia. A rough day for operators here is the everyday norm for those farther north or even south. While a “rough” day can be debated and is all in one’s “conditioning”, there’s no simply no debating any mariner’s fondness for a good flat, calm day.

For weeks up in Port Douglas we dreamt about that true “perfect flat” that only Hervey Bay can deliver, and at last today our dreams came true. Every whale blow, dolphin dorsal, turtle head, and fish jump could be seen from miles away. Starting early and ending late, the team spent the vast majority of the day just trying to keep up with the influx of animals moving through the area.

Moving from moms and calves, to large competitive groups each encounter added valuable, quality data to our fluke identification collection. Interestingly enough, some of these animals have actually been known to leave their “mark” on our research team over the years, making themselves memorable either through unique scarring or unique behavioral/social patterns from year to year. One animal in particular has seemingly gone to a whole new level and captured the hearts of researchers and locals alike through her unique reproductive patterns. Weird, huh?

Named after a Lion King character by local high school students in 1996, ‘Nala’ has become known as an “icon whale” for Hervey Bay. The Humpback Icon Project, of which began just last year, was created in an attempt to help coastal councils and their communities throughout Australia in celebrating/raising awareness of the annual humpback migration. As a frequent visitor to Hervey Bay waters, Nala has not only made her way into the hearts of local Australians but she’s also managed to make her way onto the channel 7 news!

Observed by researchers 10 out of 12 times WITH a calf since her first sighting 22 years ago, Nala has seemingly become one of the population’s most proficient breeders. Whereas 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! How’s that for single-handedly sustaining the east Australian humpback population?!


Annie Macie


Beth Salles (visitor) says:

Wow what a Mom. Are you able to keep up with all of her babies as they mature?

Annie says:

Good question. It's actually not quite as easy as one might think to track a calf year to year. Within a calf's first year, both pattern and pigmentation are likely to change as the animal matures into it's darker "skin tone."

Scars and rake marks from close encounters with other wildlife alone can dramatically change the appearance of an animal's fluke in a short amount of time, but couple that with our inability to track these animals constantly and consistently and it's a real challenge! Not an impossibility... but a challenge.