The migration of humpback whales near NSW coast takes place between May and November each year, with the start of the whale watching season now in full swing. The season can be split into two parts depending on the direction of travel for the majority of whales during this time.
During the northern migration, the Humpbacks head north between May and August mostly to give birth and to mate in the Coral Sea waters. At this time of year, they swim continuously at 5–9 km/h and have regular surface intervals.
During the southern migration, the whales head south from mid-August to November to return to the Antarctic feeding ground for the southern hemisphere summer. When they move southwards, they can swim for hours in any direction at a time, with less regular surface intervals.
On the water is one of the best places to witness whales and their annual migration. It is important to understand, however, that whales are wild animals and that whale watching carries with it dangers both to humans, as the observers, and to the whales themselves.
In June last year, two fishermen off Narooma were injured, one critically, when a whale breached and landed on the boat they were travelling in, and each year there are many close encounters.
If you're on a powered or non-powered water vessel such as a boat, surfboard, surf ski or kayak, then you need to maintain a distance of at least 100m from any whale, and 300m if a calf is present.
For all water vessels, a distance of between 100m and 300m is established as the 'caution zone'. In this zone, vessels must travel at a constant slow speed and leave a negligible wake. It’s also important to assess the direction that the whales are traveling in, and then plan the best course of action.
If using a 'prohibited vessel' (that is, a vessel that can make fast and erratic movements and not much noise under water such as a Jet Ski or parasail boat), then the distance increases to at least 300m from any whale.
There is also to be no waiting in front of any whale, or approaching from behind.
Following these rules helps ensure your safety out on the water, and ensures that the whales are not distressed by the presence of humans around them.
For more information, visit the National Parks and Wildlife Service: www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/wild-about-whales