Newcastle whale watching season set for record numbers

WOW: A humpback whale breaches in the Stockton Bight on the first weekend of the whale watching season. Picture: Peter Hanrahan
WOW: A humpback whale breaches in the Stockton Bight on the first weekend of the whale watching season. Picture: Peter Hanrahan

Newcastle whale watching operators are expecting bumper numbers of the creatures to sail past the coastline this year as part of the annual migration.

NOVA Cruises general manager Peter Hanrahan said he is anticipating 33,000 humpback whales to pass through Newcastle which, if it happens, would he highest recorded numbers of the species to be seen since whaling ceased on the east coast in 1962 and nationally in 1979.

"Back then it was estimated there was only 200 to 500 humpbacks left in the east coast population," Mr Hanrahan said.

"This year we are anticipating over 33,000 humpback whales to pass the Hunter coastline. We are slowly making our way back to predicted numbers of 36,000 to 40,000 humpbacks which used to migrate pre-whaling days."

The whale watching season in Newcastle began on June 1. The first opening weekend did not disappoint. One whale spotted in the Stockton Bight on June 2 breached for passengers on board a NOVA tour.

Mr Hanrahan said NOVA has a 92 per cent success rate with its whale watching tours during the season. "For the few that are unfortunate enough not to see a whale, the company offers a free return stand-by cruise to try their luck again," he said.

The 2019 whale watching season operates from June 1 to October 30. From June to August the whales migrate north to their calving grounds in the South Pacific region. The southern migration takes place from August to October when mothers and newborn calves make their way back down to the feeding grounds in Antarctica.

As whales become more active in the waters around Newcastle, skippers are being reminded to shut down their engines if a whale approaches within 100m of their vessel.

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