Imagine oceans just full of whales…
Disaster on and Industrial Scale
Its hard to believe that only a few hundred years ago the oceans where quite literally teaming with life. Since then totally unsustainable fishing practices have wiped out an estimated 90% of fish stocks meaning that by mid this century we face the total collapses of fishing. There will simply be no fish left to catch!
It is also hard to believe the horror visited upon the whales. We killed them by the million! Few people realise that before petroleum products became really available mankind industries where dependant on whale oil and their other by products.
What’s in a Name?
The first forms of whaling were called ‘Bay Whaling’. The whalers would have their boats readied on the beach with lookouts on the posted headlands. When a whale was spotted the men would row out and harpoon the whale. It was then taken back to the beach where it was cut up and rendered down for its oil. This practice meant that whales that liked the sheltered waters of bays, harbours and rivers were the first to be targeted.
Unfortunately Right Whales love to come into shallow waters along the coast are are often seen just beyond the surf line and beaches and in bays. They are slow swimmers, curious, rather docile, float when dead and provided large quantities of oil. The whalers soon learn they were the ‘right’ whale to catch. Tragically it was mother Right Whales and their calves that were the first to be killed.
Commercial whaling began in Australia in the 1820′s and by 1845 75% of the Southern Right population had been wiped out. There were so few whales left that the whaling industry collapsed. It wasn’t until 1935 that they were officially protected. It is currently estimated that that there are approximately 12,000 southern right whales left throughout the southern hemisphere from an original population in in excess of 100,000 (source NSW Parks and Wildlife Service).
Southern Right whales have been officially protected in Australian waters since 1935.
On the Come Back!
So its really a miracle that we have any whales left at all. Right Whales are very slowly recovering from the tragic consequences of whaling. Southern Right Whales are holding their own, just. The Northern Right whales are still critically endangered and on the brink. In Oceania Southern Right Whales are mainly found in the southern states of Australia and around New Zealand. On the east coast of Australia it is thought there is a small sub-population of around 50 animals and are seen along the coast from late June through until October.
Where’s Wally or Playing Peek A Boo with a Whale!
It was so rare to see whales when I was a kid that every sighting seemed almost miraculous. The Humpbacks are recovered strongly and now during their migration season (May to November) its hard not to see whales every day. Southern Rights are still very rare so seeing one is such a joy and privilege.
Barney turned up on the far northern beaches of Sydney in mid July and spent the best part of a week delighting ever growing crowds of onlookers at Avalon and Whale Beaches. Over the past few years there have been a few Southern Rights born on the Northern Beaches and everyone was again wondering if this was a possibility. In the end it was decided that Barney was probably not fully grown but sub-adult of around 65 tons. His her sex was never determined so I’ll refer to him as a him.
In the last week of July he started heading south and we fully expected her to just keep on going. That was until he turned up in Middle Harbour, part of Sydney Harbour. Little did we know the fun was only just beginning!
Over the next three weeks Barney put on quite the show, travelling up Middle Harbour as far as the Roseville Bridge and back again, almost on a daily basis! Along the way stopping to play with and check out fishing boats and kayakers and generally having a ball. Now this proved to be quite a headache for the team from NSW National Parks and ORRCA to monitor and make sure he was safe and well. Each morning teams would set out to find Barney and then spend the day tagging along on his journeys. Ask most parents what its like keeping boisterous teenagers out of trouble, now imagine that teenager being a 65 ton Labrador!
Watching him play in the green waters of Middle Harbour I found myself imaging the days before the whalers came and a harbour full of whales. One can only hope this is just the start and in the years to come the bays and surrounding hills of Sydney Harbour will again echo with the bellows and splashes of whales.
Nikon D610 with Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f4G ED VR
Nikon D7200 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens
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