Early sightings of humpback whales reported off the Albany coast over past fortnight

Headshot of Kasey Gratton
Kasey GrattonAlbany Advertiser
South Coast Cetaceans marine biologist Kirsty Alexander.
Camera IconSouth Coast Cetaceans marine biologist Kirsty Alexander. Credit: Laurie Benson/Albany Advertiser

The first humpback whales of the season have been spotted off the Albany coast, but a local marine biologist says it does not necessarily mark an early start to the regular whale-watching season.

Several early sightings of humpback whales have been reported in Albany over the past fortnight, with most of the sightings off the coast of Cheynes Beach.

Marine biologist Kirsty Alexander said there were a whole range of reasons that could cause the whales’ early migration, such as early calving or changes to their food availability.

Migrating southern right and humpback whales are usually seen in the waters around Albany from late May until early October, as they make their way to warmer waters off the Kimberley coast.

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“We’re certainly not going to be seeing whales every day or anything like that but from now on we do expect to get the odd early report of an animal coming through, or a couple of animals coming through,” Ms Alexander said.

Her top tip for the best way to spot a whale during the season was to “just be persistent”.

“When you’re looking out to sea, don’t just think ‘oh there’s nothing there’, because these guys can hold their breath for quite some time, so you really do need to keep looking in the location that you’re at.”

Ms Alexander’s top locations to spot a whale during during the migration are Cheynes Beach, the Bald Head and Peak Head hiking trails and the whale-watching platform at Sandpatch.

Humpback whales were removed from Australia’s list of threatened species in February by Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley and are no longer considered endangered or vulnerable.

Their population was driven to near extinction due to whaling, a practice with 178 years of history in Albany until its end in 1978.

The population increase and their de-listing as threatened has raised caution for Ms Alexander who queried how the removal of the classification would impact on protections on the mammals.

“Personally I think that de-listing might not have been the best approach, because although the population has recovered, we have new threats ... climate change being one, increases in entanglements in fishing gear and so on being another,” Ms Alexander said.

Ms Alexander said having the animals listed as officially endangered meant they would have to be taken into account as part of the environmental consideration of any construction that could affect them, such as an oil or gas project, or marina.

“Those kinds of things can have an impact on whales,” she said.

“Having the animals listed means that they are given consideration, so I think I would have preferred to see them stay listed to be honest.”

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