By Emily Gallagher
Whale season has returned to the Sunshine Coast and with a rising number of whales delighting tourists.
Sunreef Mooloolaba owner Dan Hart said 33,000 whales were expected to migrate through Sunshine Coast waters.
Many locations along the coast, extending from Hervey Bay to the Gold Coast, are tourism hotspots for whale watching.
Mr Hart said the population of whales had risen 10 per cent each year since 2014, with about 20,000 whales visiting the coast.
University of the Sunshine Coast tourism lecturer Dr Gayle Mayes said there were a few anomalies occurring with the whales migrating this year.
“The whales are calving much further south than usual,” she said.
“Minke whales have been spotted closer to the coast, usually they are a lot closer to the reefs.
“They are earlier this year which might be because of the warmer waters.”
With the rising popularity of whale watching and swimming with the whales programs on the coast, the impacts of tourism on whales could become a problem.
Dr Mayes said guidelines stopped tourists from getting to close to the whales on boats.
“A single whale could be whale watched all the way up the coast,” she said.
“Swimming with whales could have impacts in the long term with surfacing and diving.
“I do believe it has impacts on the whales.”
Mr Hart said Sunreef Mooloolaba’s whale watching season runs from June 1 to November 2 and followed a strict code of practice.
“Sunreef operates its whale watching and swim with whales operations in line with Whale Watching guides,” Mr Hart said.
“Safety and the conservation of whales and the marine environment are top priority.
“… We continue to work closely with the University of the Sunshine Coast to research whale activity,” he said.
Dr Mayes highly recommended taking the chance to swim with the whales to gain a new appreciation for the animals.