AS ONE of only a few known calving areas for Humpback whales on the eastern coast of Australia, the Whitsundays recently gained candidate status to achieve Whale Heritage Site accreditation through the World Cetacean Alliance.
A steering committee – with more than 20 interested community members, tourism operators and land managers – has been formed to work on the project.
The project is being led by Olivia Brodhurst, from Whitsunday Environmental, and Crystal Lacey, from Little Fish Tourism Development Consulting.
“Being declared a Whale Heritage site (one of only two in Australia and only six certified worldwide) will attract more visitors to the region, as well as giving tourism operators an opportunity to provide a different focus for their tours during whale season,” she said.
“Once full accreditation is achieved, the region will be the world’s first Whale Heritage Site within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the first in a World Heritage Area.”
There are six types of whales that are found in the Whitsundays.
Common and dwarf minke whales, false killer whales, humpback whales, short-finned pilot whales and sperm whales.
Ms Brodhurst said there were many ways the community could become involved in the project, such as helping collect more data on whale sightings, to a free Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) app called ‘Eye on the Reef’ (EYOR).
The app also outlines zoning for the reef and works offline.
Over the past 10 years, more than 1,000 humpback whale sightings have been recorded from the Whitsundays on the app.
“We are hoping that we can get a lot more sightings registered this year by raising awareness,” Ms Brodhurst said.
Whales can be identified from distinct markings on their flukes – the underside of the whale’s tails.
Any fluke photos uploaded into EYOR, suitable for identification, will be sent through to the team to upload to an international website called HappyWhale, Ms Brodhurst said.
“This builds a really interesting picture of the movement of our whales,” she said.
There will be a whale theme at the Great Barrier Reef Festival, in August, with events at the Family Fun Day and information at the environmental workshop.
The team will also provide training on acoustic sounding equipment to record whale songs underwater for both the community and professional skippers employed in the tourism sector.
“Collecting whale song data will also be of great benefit to researchers,” Ms Brodhurst said.
“This will also be an amazing addition to tours, this whale season, from June to September.”
There will be a pre-whale season evening, at the Coral Sea Marina Lookout Lounge, from 5.30pm to 7.30pm, on Wednesday, June 7.
GBRMPA will focus on the ‘Eye on the Reef’ app and give insights into the upcoming whale season for tourism operators and the community. It is a free event – nibbles provided.
Anyone wanting to RSVP – or wanting more information – can visit the ‘Whales of the Whitsundays’ Facebook Page or reach out to the team.
By Lindsay Simpson