Caution whales crossing

Last Monday week (Aug 18) marine scientist Janet Lanyon received permit clearance to see the Southern Right Whale that was killed by a Stradbroke Island passenger kat in Moreton Bay Friday Aug 15.

She did the necropsy on Peel Island with staff from the museum and marine parks.

“We were all pretty upset.

“It was killed instantly eight deep propeller cuts into its brain,” she says.

The sub-adult whale which had either been born this year or last year was killed while travelling with at least one adult (probably its mother) which was also injured.

Before she heard about the accident on the Friday Janet thinks she saw the mother at 9.30 am (four hours after the accident) as she was travelling on the blue Straddy vehicle barge about 10 minutes out from Cleveland.

She’d made note of the sighting near Victoria Point because sightings aren’t common and there’s not much data on the species in Moreton Bay.

She says the fatal accident was terrible because it’s such “a massive thing” that Southern Right Whales are coming back to historic winter grounds.

The story of their return is an epic that spans centuries:

Australia’s winter Southern Right Whale population was based in the cold waters of the South, but it was decimated by whaling before Queensland was even settled 190 years ago, so a Southern Right Whale was never sighted (since white settlement) in Queensland until the population had recovered sufficiently for a few to migrate this far north about 15 years ago.

Dr Lanyon says it’s more likely to be different whales every year than the same ones and the numbers are very small – likely only two or three at a time.

She doesn’t understand why their return to Moreton Bay Marine Park isn’t being treated as a big thing by the media like it is in Sydney Harbour, but she wants protective measures like the ones in the US put in place urgently.

The Northern Right Whale in the US was hunted to the brink and is now one the most endangered whales in the world.

Hunting used to be the biggest threat to this slow moving surface feeding whale but now it’s shipping that takes a terrible toll, so the US has had to put in safe operating procedures.

The measures in the US that have been a big factor in reducing ship strikes include:

  • Considering the overlap of shipping routes and the areas the whales use
  • Seasonal restrictions with whale movements
  • Narrower shipping channels
  • Slower speed limits in whale season
  • Skippers on the bridge more aware of whales
  • Dedicated whale observers on the bridge
  • Strict reporting

“We should be going all out to put regulations into place now,” Dr Lanyon says.

She studies dugongs in Moreton Bay and has come across humpbacks using the shallow Moreton Banks where big herds of dugongs feed on seagrass, so it’s important for boaties to be whale and dugong aware and if they do hit a marine mammal to report it.

Dr Michael Noad from the Queensland University Veterinarian School says shipping needs to take extra care in Moreton Bay because Southern Right Whales are not as savvy with boating as humpbacks are.
Photo in audio player by M. Watson DEPI shows a mother and calf Southern Right Whale in southern Australian Waters

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