A humpback whale leaps out of Sunshine Coast waters.
A humpback whale leaps out of Sunshine Coast waters.

Collaboration creates unique whale watching experience

ONCE a rare sight, humpback whales and their calves have become a common spectacle off our coast and researchers are determined to discover why.

Sunshine Coast Afloat operator Jerry van Driel-Vis said this season was the second he had seen mothers birth their calves while migrating to warmer waters in the Great Barrier Reef.

His desire to learn more, combined with plenty of available space aboard their 55ft vessel, has spawned a collaboration between the Mooloolaba whale watching service and Humpbacks and High-Rises research program.

 

Jerry van Driel-Vis of Mooloolaba Fish n Crab with Life Jackets.
Photo: Kari Bourne / Sunshine Coast Daily
Jerry van Driel-Vis of Mooloolaba Fish n Crab with Life Jackets. Photo: Kari Bourne / Sunshine Coast Daily Kari Bourne

Up to three researchers will join the intimate outings of a maximum 23 people to monitor the health, movement and well-being of humpback whales, and as an added bonus, share their knowledge with the crew and passengers.

"That's the only price they pay for being on our boat - talking to our passengers," Mr van Driel-Vis said.

Griffith University's Dr Olaf Meynecke is among them, and said while a decade ago you may have seen one or two mothers and calves, they were now seeing about 30 in a month.

 

But Mr van Driel-Vis explained the growth in numbers was no guarantee we will continue see more whales along the east coast as research focuses on the impact of climate change.

"If their environment continues to heat up, they might not have to need to come up this far," he said.

Researchers are also measuring the number of dives, time between, the size of the animals, how much time they spend underwater against variables such as gender, age and whether they are pregnant.

 

Researchers are tracking whale migrations.
Researchers are tracking whale migrations. RICKFRANKS

They also submerge equipment to record songs which Mr van Driel-Vis said vary each year.

"What they are trying to find out is if there a correlation between the previous year and next year, a difference between a mother calling to a calf, versus a male calling to a male, or a male to female," he said.

Mr van Driel Vis hopes this season marks the first research collaboration of many to the benefit of whale conservation.

"This is our fourth year of doing whale watching, and they touch you emotionally, they're beautiful," he said.



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