BREAKING: Official world whale capital announced
HOLD on to your flippers, Hervey Bay has been declared the world's first Whale Heritage Site.
Hervey Bay's scientifically proven importance as a stop-over destination for migrating humpback whales has now cemented the city as one of the world's preeminent whale watching destinations.
The World Heritage crown was announced today at the Beach House Hotel, in front of about 100 delegates from around the world attending the four-day World Whale Conference.
The Fraser Coast is the only place where ocean giants "stay and play" during their migration and has long been regarded as Australia's unofficial whale watching capital.
Hosting the Whale Conference assisted Hervey Bay's bid for the prestigious title, which was awarded by the World Cetacean Alliance - the world's largest partnership working to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Other candidates included The Bluff-Durban in South Africa, a former whaling station turned tourist attraction, North Vancouver Island in Canada, New Zealand's Marlborough Sounds and US drawcard Nantucket Island, the former centre of the whaling world and home of the great literary work, Moby Dick.
Fraser Coast Tourism and Events general manager Martin Simons said the successful Whale Heritage Site recognition will complement the region's other great icon, World Heritage Listed K'gari Fraser Island, situated within the UNESCO-recognised Great Sandy Biosphere.
Mr Simons said the status would be a huge brand booster, particularly in Europe and the US, and had the potential to generate millions in extra tourism dollars in coming years.
He said the number of international tourists wanting to experience and learn more about nature at environmentally responsible destinations was on the rise.
"An additional 1000 overnight visitors on current trends delivers an additional $575,000 (annually) in direct tourism spend to the region, so the successful positioning of Hervey Bay as the whale capital of Australia is worth millions," Mr Simons said.
"Hervey Bay has always been a special place to view 40-tonne humpback whales. It was the first region in Australia to offer commercial whale watching experiences from boats, back in 1986,'' he said.
"The region's whale fleet (of 10 boats) has played a major part in protecting the whales' environment, working with scientists, conservation groups and the State Government. The fleet works under a strict code of practice, which is one of the most stringent in the world in terms of whale protection.''
In preparation for the World Whale Conference, Fraser Coast Tourism and Events worked with partners to develop a signature bamboo art project on the Scarness Foreshore to reinforce the region as special humpback place.
The region celebrates the whales' migration with an annual festival. Part spiritual and part celebration, it starts with the blessing of the fleet in July, then in August features a community paddle-out followed by an annual whale concert and illumination parade.
There also is a program in schools with the "Junior Whale Whisperer", dispensing humpback facts and enlightening the next generation about the importance of the amazing creatures.