A Dynamic Disequilibrium

When we go on whalewatches, we are entering the world of humpback whales to encounter them in their natural environment. Passengers and crew are often astounded by the diverse behaviors and characteristics of these animals, but occasionally we are also presented with sobering reminders that threats to whales and other marine life are still very real. On one of our recent whalewatches out of Hervey Bay, Australia, all those aboard Ocean Defender were given a glimpse into humpback whale entanglement.

As we entered Platypus Bay we saw our first whale sighting of the day, and the level of excitement was rising. There was a whale swimming by itself, which is not unusual for a humpback whale, but after a few minutes it seemed there may be something wrong. This particular whale was acting stressed and swimming erratically. Then we noticed something odd; as the whale surfaced we could see a laceration on its dorsal fin from dragging several lines.

Whale 1 Resize

Since commercial whaling was ended in the 1960s, we have seen the East Australian humpback whale population rise from an estimated 200 – 1,200 humpback whales to over 14,500 whales. Not only that, but they are continuing to increase at a rate of 11% each year. However, the effort to protect these creatures is not over. In Queensland alone, entanglement in shark control gear and fishing gear, as well as other marine debris, accounts for one-third of humpback whale strandings.

This was the first time our passengers and many of the crew had seen an entangled whale. Though government regulations do not allow us to assist with entanglement response, local authorities assessed the situation. They searched for the whale the following day to attempt to help it but, unfortunately, were not able to relocate the animal. The situation created a dynamic disequilibrium; an internal conflict that catches people’s attention and moves them to reassess things. It opened their eyes to the reality that marine conservation is necessary, and that human activities make a very real impact on marine life.

Whale 2 Resize

Not everyone can collect marine debris or disentangle a whale, but a significant positive impact can be made by us working together. Small actions like picking up trash on the beach and choosing to recycle, or larger actions like commiting to a plastic free lifestyle or becoming an active part of a local conservation group all add up. Just look at the history of these whales – due to conservation efforts we have already seen enormous recovery in their populations. Our potential impact is limitless.

If you have any questions, or want to learn more about how to become involved in our mission, leave a comment below!

Please note: if you do come across an entangled whale, do not attempt to assist or free the animal as it is unsafe and illegal unless properly authorized and permitted. Training is highly specialized and requires proper equipment and personnel.

An Exciting Start to Australia’s Whalewatch Season

This whalewatch season in Hervey Bay, Australia marks an exciting continuation of Pacific Whale Foundation’s mission to protect our oceans and study the humpback whales in the East Australian population. These whales stop over in Platypus Bay every winter on their migration back to their feeding grounds in Antarctica. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) began its long relationship with Australia’s whalewatching capital in the 1980s when our Founder and Executive Director, Greg Kaufman, discovered the beauty of the humpback whales in Platypus Bay, off of Fraser Island, and pioneered the area’s first whalewatch on a borrowed fishing boat. Since then, Greg and the PWF researchers have been important figures in Hervey Bay, conducting photo-identification studies on these amazing animals each winter.

Humpback whale flukes are uniquely patterned and can provide valuable information for scientists in a way that is similar to our human fingerprints. Using photo-ID, our researchers have created a catalog that allows us to better study and understand the habitats and life history traits of these marine mammals without using more invasive methods such as tagging. PWF currently has a Southern Hemisphere catalog of over 6,000 whales. As we are better able to study these animals, our researchers can identify better means of protecting them.

This year, we invite the public to come on board with us on our new state of the art vessel, Ocean Defender, as we embark on daily Ultimate Whalewatches from the Great Sandy Straits Marina that are unlike anything many have experienced. Not only will we have a Researcher On Board collecting photo-ID data, we also have a university educated certified Marine Naturalist interpreting the whale behavior in order to allow passengers to appreciate these animals and have a life-changing encounter. By coming out with us, our passengers are the backbone of what we do at Pacific Whale Foundation, with all of the proceeds supporting the research and education taking place in Australia.

Join us as we continue to pursue research, education, and conservation, and become a part of what we are doing at Pacific Whale Foundation. Visit PacificWhale.com.au for more information on our Hervey Bay Ultimate Whalewatches. We look forward to showing you the majestic humpback whales that have inspired so many of us to dedicate our lives to helping them.