THE Humpback Highway is in full swing as whales head north to breed and give birth. Waters off Jervis Bay played host to possibly the most famous of all whales, Migaloo, the world's only known all-white adult humpback whale, last week.
Marine Mammal Research Jervis Bay project co-ordinator with Scott Sheehan said Migaloo was sighted from the wrecked lighthouse at Cape St George south of Jervis Bay last week.
“We heard the reports of him in Eden and then he was spotted off Jervis Bay about Wednesday and then Sydney the next day,” he said.
“Through those sightings we have been able to map and track his travel times. It took him about 20 hours to get from Jervis Bay to Sydney, travelling at three to four knots.”
At the weekend Migaloo frolicked on the NSW Mid North Coast, spotted about a mile offshore near the lighthouse at Port Macquarie.
He even stopped to put on a show for photographers on a whale watching tour.
“The humpbacks are midway through their northern migration, as they head up to the warmer water to give birth and mate,” Mr Sheehan said.
“We will hit the peak in the next week or so and will see between 60 and 70 passing the headland of Jervis Bay.”
Whale watchers were treated to a great show, both in the morning and the afternoon on Sunday.
There were multiple humpback sightings, dolphins, seals, a majestic albatross and even a white bellied sea eagle swooped in front of the Jervis Bay Wild boat to thrill the crowd with a fish capture.
“At the moment the whales are coming through in small pods, mainly males as a competitive pod chasing a female,” Mr Sheehan said.
“Despite the females trying to head north as quick as they can, the males are very boisterous.
“They have lots of marking and scratching from where they have been competing for dominance. They use barnacles on their skin to rough up rival males.
“We’ve been taking fin and fluke IDs to try and match them up with other whales.”
He said the migration was a six-month process.
“The whales head north for two to three months of the year to the warmer water,” he said.
“A whale’s gestation period is 12 months, so the ones that aren’t pregnant have to ensure they are before they leave up north, so they can time it to make the trip to the warmer waters the following year.
“We see the changeover in Jervis Bay about mid August. Some whales will still be heading north, while others will be heading south.
“Southbound whales come into Jervis Bay at the end of September, all the way through October.
“October is our peak time, particularly between the 15th and 18th.
“In the last few years during that peak time we have counted up to 30 or 40 mothers and calves inside the bay. We have documented them staying in the bay for up to 14 days.
“We’ve been lucky, we’ve had a female and calf in 2008 documented in Jervis Bay and she came back in 2010. The strange thing was she came back on the same date, two years apart.
“That shows she’s a strong female, from giving birth and mating back-to-back. There is also a site affiliation with Jervis Bay as a special area, a nursery ground and possibly a resting ground.”
You can do your bit to help document these incredible creatures, with ORRCA and Booderee National Park staging its annual whale count on Sunday.
The count will be conducted from the old lighthouse at the headland of Cape St George and anyone is welcome to take part in the full day event.