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Record Sightings of Whales

“The 2016 whale season has turned into a record breaker around our bays. We’ve just had our busiest weekend of whale sightings ever!” said Dolphin Research Institute, Research Officer David Donnelly. This photograph of two humpback whales was taken at Phillip Island by Renee de Bondt from Wildlife Coast Cruises.

Winter in our bays and surrounding coastal waters has become something of a busy time for keen whale watchers. Large whales are now so regular in our waters that sightings have become an expectation rather than a novelty. Hunted to the edge of extinction during the industrial whaling era, humpback and southern right whales are making a comeback, though the latter still has a long way to go. The east coast population of humpback whales is expected to reach around 26,000 animals this season which is close to the estimated pre-whaling numbers.

The news is not so great for the slow to reproduce southern right whale, with their southeast Australian numbers estimated to be between just 224 and 251 individuals. What we are able to say for now is that over the course of this past weekend at least 12 – 16 whales were sighted! Since our first sighting for the season on June 16th , there have been a total of 56 validated sightings of humpback, southern right and killer whales in Port Phillip, Western Port and nearby coastal waters. In comparison, for the same time period last year there were just 33 validated sightings.

“Whether this is a case of more whales, more people looking or a bit of both is yet to be determined but one thing’s for sure, whales never fail to attract the attention of the public.” We are very concerned about reports of vessels approaching too close to migrating whales, both for the welfare of the animals and the safety of people on board the boats.

It is important to remember that Victoria’s whale watching regulations state that boats must not approach whales closer than 200 metres. For PWCs (jetskis and the like) the minimum distance is 300 metres. Serious penalties apply for breaching these regulations.

The Two Bays Whale Project is a citizen science project inviting people to report sightings of whales and contribute images to a centralised database. It is partnership with the Dolphin Research Institute and Wildlife Coast Cruises. Data collected over years is used to compare sighting rates, monitor changes in behaviour and give an overall understanding of trends in numbers of animals visiting our waters. You can log your whale sightings here.

This is a wonderful way to be breaking environmental records!


  • Is anyone able to explain the increase in numbers? It’s so wonderful to see these amazing creatures in our local bays but it would be interesting to know why they are visiting. Lost? Resting? Exploring? Good food? Love to know… Especially given Port Phillip Bays slightly “dodgy” entrance and rather shallow waters…

    • admin says:

      Samantha, thanks for your post. I wish there was an easy answer. The key driver will be increased numbers in the population that migrates along Australia’s East Coast. It is also possible that some of the additional sightings is due to community awareness, so more are looking out for and seeing them. Some coming into Port Phillip will be influenced by the strong flooding tides sweeping them into the bay if they are swimming close to the Heads. And of course we are starting to see lots of changing patterns in many marine species as the changing climate has an effect on ecosystems and species. The only thing for certain is that the humpback whales in particular are showing a come back in their numbers — which is great.

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