More than 40, 000 humpback whales travel from Antarctica to Australia every year. They swim up the coast, blowing air out of their blowholes, breaching, breeding and birthing their calves. They even sing – I’ve heard them both above and below the water. Whale song is as eerie in person as it sounds recorded.
The Australian humpback population isn’t as even as you might expect. I took it for granted that humpback whales would flock in their thousands to holiday off the Queensland coast, in the Great Barrier Reef, like so many human tourists. They do – at least 10,000 whales, known as “Population E”, migrate in winter up the eastern coast of Australia to the largest barrier reef in the world.
The remaining 30,000 (possibly more) swim from Antarctica up the Western Australian coast, all the way to Camden Sound, near Broome. This is the largest humpback whale population in the world.
Encountering a whale in the Geelvink Channel between the Houtman Abrolhos Islands and Geraldton isn’t a rare occurrence in winter and spring, when at least 30,000 Population D whales are headed north for the winter and south again for the summer. I’ve seen whales breaching, flying over this Channel in a charter plane from the Abrolhos in July.
Whales travel to Australia’s northern coasts to mate and, the following year, to give birth to the resulting babies. During their long swim, humpback whales rest in areas like Exmouth Gulf and the waters to the north of Rottnest Island. In these resting areas, the baby whales play and learn some of the behaviours they will need to know as adults, like breaching.
Back in 1999, Populations D and E were estimated to be no bigger than 14,000 and 4,000, respectively. In the intervening thirteen years, both populations have more than doubled. It's likely that bans on commercial whaling and other human conservation measures have helped whale populations to recover.
Or could it really be because a mermaid midwife has been assisting in whale births for that time? For the answer to that, I suggest you ask Belinda.
The photos below and above I took last week, on the 1st and the 3rd October 2012.