Cruise operators expect humpback whales will begin making an appearance in Port Stephens ‘any day now’.
Frank Future, the operator of Imagine Cruises for 20 years, said the gentle giants would not be too far away as seals had begun arriving at Cabbage Tree Island.
This is the the annual precursor to the whale migration arriving in the Port.
“This should be a really good season,” Mr Future said.
“We’re expecting up around 25,000 humpbacks will pass along the east coast this year.”
In the past five years, the number of humpback whales making the journey north from feeding grounds in Antarctica to the warmer tropical waters of the Pacific to breed has risen from 18,000 to more than 22,000.
The warmer waters allow juveniles, who are born without blubber for insulation, to mature before dealing with the icy southern water.
The whales travel past New Zealand, through the Tasman Sea, towards Sydney where they begin popping up for people to see.
They continue north towards Port Stephens where the whales swim quite close to the shore so as to avoid the East Australian Current.
“Because of the current, the whales swim close to the shore especially at the Outer Lighthouse,” Mr Future said.
“You can see them really clearly from the headlands.
“National Parks and the council have made some great land-based vantage spots, but there’s no beating being on a boat and seeing them up close.”
Humpback whales migrate north between May and August.
The whales and calves then make the return journey south between August and November.
This round-trip is about 12,000 kilometres.
Whale (and dolphin) watching is now worth an estimated $1.5 billion to the Australian economy annually.
In Port Stephens, whale watching tourism is estimated to inject more than $30 million a year into the economy.
The second largest cruise operator in Port Stephens is Moonshadow – TQC Cruises.
On May 10 the Nelson Bay-based operator will run its first whale watching cruise, which they are calling a “reconnaissance cruise”.
There are a number of land-based spots across the Tomaree Peninsula where residents and visitors to the area can see whales pass the coast, including:
The Tomaree Head Summit Walk, which is considered one of the top 10 panoramic views in Australia.
The Port’s beaches and foreshores also offer good whale-watching, especially from Boat Harbour (accessed from Iluka Reserve), Anna Bay and Fisherman's Bay.
Barry Park in Fingal Bay. This park has a dedicated whale watching platform.