Boat users are being urged to maintain mandatory distances from humpback whales migrating north towards Western Australia’s Kimberley coast after footage revealed a small vessel hitting an animal at high speed.
- The warning follows footage that showed a ship hitting a whale at high speed
- The Kimberley Coast is a key region for humpback whale mating and calving
- Sanctions apply to boat operators who deliberately violate mandatory separation distances
It happened last week near Broome and coincided with the annual humpback whale migration season as cows seek warmer waters to mate and give birth.
Craig Olejnik, of WA’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, says such “distress or disturbance can negatively impact whales”.
“One of the key messages is for people to be careful and watch their speed and their surroundings to try to avoid these kinds of negative interactions,” he said.
Mandatory separation distances apply on the water, with boats required to maintain a distance of 300m from a whale ahead or behind them and 100m from an animal to the side.
Penalties of up to $500,000 apply to anyone who intentionally breaks the rules.
Privacy in the ‘bedroom’
Micheline Jenner of the Center for Whale Research said it was particularly important for water-lovers to adhere to separation rules in July and August – a peak time for humpback whale activity.
“Antarctica is the whales’ kitchen, and they travel in a journey that we call the humpback highway… to get to the chamber, and the chamber is the Kimberley,” she said.
“They seek calm, sheltered bays like the Gulf of Exmouth and the Kimberley to give birth to their young.
“In your room, you are conducting a private activity, and we must also respect the activities of humpback whales in the Kimberley room.”
Requires proper boat ‘tag’
Ms Jenner, who has studied whales for more than three decades, said the latest incident off the Kimberley coast was “distressing”, especially as ship strikes were among the biggest threats to whales. whale populations.
“We need all the whales in this population,” she said.
“Fortunately, humpback whales have been removed from the endangered species list, and their populations in western and eastern Australia are really thriving.”
“That’s really good news, but it means there’s a higher chance now than those whale and boat encounters because their population is between 45,000 and 48,000 individuals in WA.”
Ms Jenner urged people to practice “very good boating etiquette and to look carefully or slow down if you see a whale”.