Port Stephens whale watch bookings running hot heading into June long weekend

THEY'RE BACK: Michael Butler captured this shot of a breaching whale from Imagines Cruises on Saturday.
THEY'RE BACK: Michael Butler captured this shot of a breaching whale from Imagines Cruises on Saturday.

The timing could not have been better.

Just as the state government announced the further relaxation of restrictions across NSW, the humpback whales started their northern migration giving the Port's ailing tourism industry some much needed stimulus.

In just the first week of reactivating whale watch cruises on May 27, the Port's leading operators have reported an increasing number of whale sightings and positive feedback from locals and holidaymakers.

The industry has been boosted with the government's lifting of travel bans within NSW.

Frank Future, from Imagine Cruises, said that early signs for a busy winter period were encouraging.

And that means a financial boost for the Port Stephens economy generally, with visitors expected to take advantage of lifted restrictions following a lonely, isolated autumn period due to the state-wide coronavirus lockdown.

"We have been spotting large numbers of whales on our trial runs, including the one pictured taken by Michael Butler on Saturday afternoon," Mr Future said.

"We want to ensure visitors that we are undertaking all the necessary precautions for a safe cruise. There is lots of social distancing and we are awash with sanitiser.

"From the test runs over the last week it looks like we are in for lots of whales, they all look quite healthy after a summer of feeding in the southern ocean and the numbers will increase as the weeks go by.

"The middle of June and all July is the peak run when literally hundreds of whales pass by the port every day heading north."

Mr Future said locals were treated to a rare sight last week, where a juvenile humpback spent two days inside the port visiting along the southern shoreline up to Soldiers Point and even venturing into the western harbour.

Lisa Skelton, on board the AquaMarine Adventures vessel, previously known as Envision which is an express whale watching charter, snapped a photo of the juvenile humpback whale breaching right alongside a NSW Maritime vessel on Friday.

"A quick direction change from the youngster during a dive meant the breach took the team a little by surprise," Ms Skelton said.

Speaking about the delayed start to the 2020 whale watching season, Ms Skelton said after two months off the water it was exciting to be resuming operations "just as the humpbacks are starting to pass our coast on their northern migration".

"More than 35,000 humpbacks are expected to pass Port Stephens in the coming months," she said.

"The population continues to increase by approximately 10 per cent each year. The comeback of the Australian humpback is a great conservation success story. With the current global climate, it may be the feel good story we all need."

Mel Turner from Moonshadow-TQC Cruises said that the response to the start of the whale watching season had been sensational.

"All of our stars (and whales) aligned on May 27 when we put our first cruise out on the water for the season," she said.

"Our first 10 passengers were greeted by a juvenile whale in the bay, a very rare and unique experience and inquiries for whale cruises continue to be strong.

"With numbers being increased to 50 passengers per cruise from June 1, we are looking forward to getting our larger vessels out on the water. The June long weekend is generating a lot of bookings to date, some already at 100 per cent occupancy.

"Our COVID-19 safe practicing videos, providing comfort and confidence for passengers, have also generated a positive response."

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