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Reef Report for Saturday, July 15, 2006

Humpback Whales: Common July/August Visitors to the Reef
Protected on the Great Barrier Reef, not in the Antarctic Oceans

While on a visit to Green Island this past week we were treated with an amazing and an unexpected visitor, who made a great day out on the reef even better.

Each year the Eastern Australian coast witnesses the migration of Humpback Whales, from their feeding grounds in Antarctica to their winter mating and breeding grounds on the Northern Great Barrier Reef.

The population of Humpbacks has rebounded from very low numbers caused by whaling activities, which were finally ended in 1986. Since then the population has grown, but is nowhere near the historic pre-whaling levels.

There’s one very unique whale that migrates into this region, and that’s Migaloo, the only known all white whale. Thought to be around 16 years old, the yearly sightings of this whale up and down the coast are part of the annual cycle of nature. Scientists so far have been unable to confirm whether or not Migaloo is a true albino animal or not, as that awaits a DNA or skin sample to confirm, and no one is willing to disturb this unique animal to obtain the sample needed.

This week a number of visitors to Green Island were thrilled to see Migaloo lingering just a couple of hundred metres offshore, and easily spotted by the tourists that walked out to the end of the jetty to get a close look.

Migaloo was accompanied by what was thought to be a female companion, and they both swam around in a leisurely fashion before swimming into deeper waters offshore.

This time of year humpback whales are commonly spotted by dive boats heading to and from the Great Barrier Reef. © Queensland Environmental Protection Agency Inside the reef they are completely protected. Migaloo’s celebrity status has granted him further protection by the Australian Government, which has declared him to be a “whale of special status” and includes regulations prohibiting close approaches by watercraft, airplanes, or helicopters.

Unfortunately, once these whales leave Australian and enter Antarctic waters they are no longer protected.

In 2005, after a 20-year moratorium on the killing of humpback whales, Japan announced its intention to include the killing of 10 humpback whales as a part of an expansion of its controversial scientific whaling program. Japan’s plans are to nearly double the scientific whaling program from the past year; to kill up to 935 minke whales, 50 endangered fin whales, and 50 threatened humpback whales.

In the first season of this new scientific regime, which runs from September through March, Japanese whalers killed 853 minke whales and 10 fin whales. Australia and many other countries argue that it is unnecessary to use lethal means in order to obtain scientific information about whales, and we ourselves wonder what more is to be learned from killing 1,000 whales this next year that has not been learned from the hundreds of thousands that have been killed in the past, or even the 863 that were killed last year.

This next September we can hope that Japan elects not to kill humpback whales, and that Migaloo and all the rest of this group of humpbacks is spotted again off the Australian coast, marking another year in the cycle of life on the reef.

For more Information:

Whales in Antacrtica, from the Australian Antarctic Division

Reports from the July 2006 meeting of the International Whaling Commission, by Earth Island

IWC meeting coverage by the World Wildlife Foundation

International Whaling Commission

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as  many other local sources in the dive community.

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