Cape Byron lighthouse volunteer Margot Hays spotted her first whale of the season off the Cape yesterday. Thousands more humpbacks are expected to pass by in the next few weeks.
Cape Byron lighthouse volunteer Margot Hays spotted her first whale of the season off the Cape yesterday. Thousands more humpbacks are expected to pass by in the next few weeks. Kate O’Neill

Having a whale of a time

RECORD numbers of whales will pass through North Coast waters this year as the humpbacks make their annual migration.

Director of the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre, Professor Peter Harrison, says more than 14,000 are expected to make their way to the northern breeding grounds over the next few months – about 1000 more than last year – and will return with more than 1500 calves.

“We're seeing an increase of more than 10% a year at the moment, and that's fantastic,” he said.

Whales have already been spotted this year passing popular whale-watching sites such as Cape Byron and numbers are expected to jump significantly in the next few weeks.

The increase in population is extending the peak period of the migration at both ends, making the whale watching longer and sightings more common.

The peak of the northward migration is usually during the last weeks of June and first weeks of July, but numbers have now increased sufficiently for there to be a ‘crossover' – where whales heading north are met by those on their way back.

Commercial whale watchers have reported seeing whales returning south as late as December last year.

Professor Harrison said it was heartening to see the population returning to its pre-whaling strength.

In the 1950s the whale population exceeded 25,000, but from 1959-61 it was decimated by the Soviet fleet, which left only 100-200 whales. Whales were also hunted from Byron Bay.



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