This month I am writing to you from Victor Harbour, on South Australia’s beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula, whilst watching a southern right whale feeding her playful calf in the quiet blue waters of Encounter Bay on a stunning spring day.
We have just finished a two-day conference with a group of Club Marine’s SA business partners, and have been overindulging in some of the best local produce, seafood and wines that Australia has to offer.
Our conference venue, on the top of the bluff overlooking Victor Harbour, has some colourful history, having served as the vantage point for spotters serving one of Australia’s largest whaling and sealing stations in the 1850s.
A century-and-half later, Encounter Bay is now a safe refuge for the abundant whales and other sea mammals that come here across the Southern Ocean from Antarctica each year to breed and feed their young.
In recent weeks, we’ve also seen the annual migration along the Pacific coast of another species of marine mammal – yacht racers, who join pods of humpback whales on their journey north to the warm waters of the Whitsundays. And the reports from the yachties are all good – the numbers of humpbacks spotted each year is steadily increasing, which is great news for the environment, but not so great for the yachties, who are having to be increasingly vigilant with their look-outs to avoid getting too close.
About a year ago, we managed an insurance claim for a well-known and highly successful super maxi racing yacht, which collided with a humpback while cruising north in the dead of night. The boat was brought to an instant halt, providing a rude awakening for the crew in their bunks, and an even ruder awakening for the whale, which expressed its displeasure by tail-slapping the boat’s cockpit, just behind where the helmsman was standing. The pulpit was destroyed, along with the stern safety rail. Since then, I understand the skipper has made a point of ensuring that their forward-looking sonar is running at all times when they are underway at night – a practice we’d urge others to consider.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this story first-hand from a couple of crew members who were onboard that night and the version that is most often told around the bar latish in the evening starts with something along the lines of: “She was big, dangerous, and could breathe through a hole in the back of her head…”.
My family had its very own unique and memorable encounter with some of our cetaceous cousins a couple of weeks back. My wife, Michelle was given an up-close-and-personal chance to swap mammalian parenting tips with a pair of humpbacks and their rather boisterous calf when they appeared alongside her and our kids as they were kayaking only 300 metres off Hamilton Island’s Catseye Beach.
These close encounters have given me pause to reflect on the close affinity we humans enjoy with marine mammals, particularly so in more recent times as environmental awareness spreads. The facts speak for themselves – in the 1970s, there were reportedly as few as 1000 whales cruising our shores; now that number is estimated at closer to 20,000.
But still, thousands of whales, dolphins, dugongs, seals, turtles and other marine animals are killed each year by discarded fishing nets and other garbage. Coastcare reports that, in the last 20 months, more than 60,000 metres (that’s 60 kilometres) of discarded fishing nets have been recovered in the waters around the Gulf of Carpentaria, alone.
Coastcare is the government and community funded marine arm of Landcare, with 60,000 volunteers working on around 2000 marine environmental protection projects around the country, including the Carpentaria Ghost Nets Program, which involves local indigenous communities in the recovery of nets and rescue of injured marine animals.
You can find out about the great work Coastcare is doing to protect the marine environment in your local area at www.coastcare.com.au. Also, please turn to P34 for our Guest Editorial this issue, written by Coastcare CEO, Brian Scarsbrick.
After all, we marine mammals need to stick together to keep the place tidy for our kids, calves, cubs etc.
Publisher and CEO
Club Marine Limited