The time of whaling
Whaling in Australia began in the late 18th century, with small row boats venturing off the coast in search of whale species. The crews would throw harpoons and then drag the carcass’ of the whale behind the boat. Once on-shore whaling stations would strip the whale for multiple products including lubricants, soaps and oil. Bone was used for decorations and the meat was eaten by both people and animals alike. While there were many whaling stations along the Australian coast, Davidson Whaling Station on the south-east coast was one of the more notorious sites, and can now can be visited for a unique insight into the lives and culture of the 19th century whalers.
When the harpoon gun came into existence whaling became less sustainable and as one marine biologist stated, more of a ‘turkey shoot’. Steam driven ships and explosive harpoons made whaling as efficient as ever and many whale species were driven close to extinction. Humpback whales were commercially harvested around the Australian coast between 1912 and 1972, with tens of thousands of the animals killed, decimating the species. Humpbacks were one of the worse-hit as whaling stations picked off individuals on their migrations from the feeding grounds in Antarctica to their breeding grounds on the east and west coast of Australia. It was suggested that whaling stations in Australia and New Zealand killed close to 40,000 individuals. Due to this rapid decline, humpbacks were protected in 1963 in Australia and 1965 worldwide.
Australia leading the way in conservation
Australia was one of the first countries to take whale conservation to a new level. After seeing first-hand, the devastation that humans inflicted upon the leviathans, conservationists created numerous eco-tourism companies and university marine mammal courses. Worth close to A$50 million in direct expenditure to the Australian economy, whale and dolphin watching has proved beneficial to both marine mammals and humans alike. The resurgence of the Australian humpback population has been dubbed “a symbol of hope” by marine scientists the world over.
A recent paper stated that the Australian humpback population has risen annually at a rate of nine percent a year off the country’s west coast and 10 percent for the east coast. It is even suggested that these numbers could rise to 15% and more over the next decade. As of 2012, they had grown to more than 63 percent (east coast) and 90 percent (west coast) of those recorded before the whaling era.
A rare success story in the marine field, Australia’s humpback recovery is used as a case study for other countries across the world who are fighting for their species’ survival. Optimism in conservation biology is essential to encourage politicians, policy makers and the public to solve conservation problems.
With a greater population of humpbacks come more chances of entanglements, ship strikes and pollution, however in time new approaches could be adopted for further protection. One humpback in particular receives special attention. Migaloo, the albino humpback has special laws restricting boats from approaching closer than 500 metres.
Australian humpback declared not endangered anymore
With the status of the Australian humpback delisted from a threatened species, conservation funding can be relocated to the protection of other marine species such as the Blue whale whose population had also been greatly depleted yet unlike the humpback remain endangered due to their extremely long gestation period.
Further humpback whale research is however vital in order to ensure long term conservation of the species as we still don’t know enough about our gentle giants.
Go whale watching
Join us on a whale watching trip this year or participate in one of our 3 day research expeditions.