Featured Image Credit: mucru.org
By: Kira Krall
Every winter solstice, hundreds of people gather on Australia’s East Coast to take part in the annual humpback whale census. Armed with binoculars and a cetacean fascination, they assist the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Organization for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans (ORRCA) in counting individual whales to estimate the population numbers. On June 25th of this year, more than 2,257 individuals were counted on the annual winter solstice census, up 10% from last year.
The ranger- and ORRCA-led census events occur at five different locations, with the Tracking Point Lighthouse near Sea Acres National Park consistently boasting the highest whale counts. NPWS rangers educate visitors on how the census works and teaches them how to survey by observing blows. A “blow” is a plume of water that a whale shoots up when it’s at the surface to breathe. The stream is so powerful and the census locations are so high up, they’re easy to spot by surveyors. Once a blow is spotted, it’s up to the census-takers to count individual bodies. They can take the form of the whale of the body itself, a tail engaged in a massive slap, or a breach of a fin.
All of this is done to keep track of how healthy the population is. More whales mean more resources to go around. In 2002, the census reported only 233 sightings. The dramatic increase could be due to a couple factors, including better conservation practices, more whale-watchers, and more efficient whale spotting. Regardless of methods, this census event is giving scientists, policymakers, and the public a clearer picture of Australia’s migrating humpback population.
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