Avoiding a whale mugging

One of many humpback whales heading south back to their feeding grounds. As you can see they can be quite inquisitive.
One of many humpback whales heading south back to their feeding grounds. As you can see they can be quite inquisitive.

WHALE watchers were treated to a close encounter with two humpback whales at Cape Byron on Sunday.

Rob Dalton, a skipper with Whale Watching Byron Bay, said two adult whales, spotted about 1.5 kilometres north of Cape Byron, thrilled whale watchers by coming within metres of his vessel for a close look at the boat and those on board.

Mr Dalton spotted up to 40 whales within 300 to 400 metres of his boat on Sunday, and said that while that is a good number, it's not especially high for this time of the year.

Peta Beeman of Southern Cross University's Whale Research Group said the peak whale season in our water was usually from mid September to mid October.

"The whales are moving south from the breeding and birthing area of the central Great Barrier Reef," she said.

"Byron Bay is an important rest stop for mothers and their calves because there is not a lot of boat traffic and they don't have to go too far off the migration path to come in and rest and feed."

Ms Beeman said that humpback whales were inquisitive, and whale watchers may experience a 'mugging' at this time of year.

"A whale mugging is when a whale will come close to a boat for a better look.

It is often the sub-adults - those whales aged two to three years. They seem to be as curious about us as we are about them," she said.

Mr Dalton said that boats must keep a 100 metre distance from a whale; and 300 metres if there is a calf in the pod.

Ms Beeman said the distance limits were important because calves were born with practically no blubber, so feeding along the route is important.

"If feeding is disrupted (by onlookers), the calf may not have fuel for the trip south and may not have the blubber needed for colder waters."

Topics:  cape byron, humpback whales, whale watching



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