Fraser's All Finned And Feathered

Whale Watching off Fraser Island has just entered its 29th season in our region and, at this time of year, visitors are in the box seat to see one of the largest animals embarking on one of the longest migrations.

Hervey Bay Humpbacks indulge in a little people watching and put on quite a show while they do it. Pic Richard Campion
Sixty Minutes’ Charles Wooley once described the rise of Humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) population numbers as one of Mother Nature’s greatest comebacks.  Here is an animal that was hunted to the brink of extinction for products such as whale oil, bones and blubber.  This year, those in the know report that more than 20,000 are expected to make the annual migration along the east coast of Australia with around 8,000 of those taking time out of their migration schedule to socialise and wallow in the calm waters on the lee side of Fraser.

RANGER FACT In the late 18th century, whale bones were popular in whips, umbrellas and corsets, whilst blubber was melted down and used in candles and as a base for perfumes and soaps.

Whales were hunted to the brink of extinction.  Photo courtesy of:
According to NSW Wildlife Officer, Geoff Ross - in his recent interview with ABC – better conservation practices have helped Humpback numbers bounce back from overharvesting.  However, with the increase in numbers comes an increased risk of potential boat strikes, strandings and net entanglements.

Here in Hervey Bay, boat skippers are obliged by law not to approach within 100m of the Humpbacks (or 300m if there are three or more vessels present). They also can’t approach a whale head on nor can they herd or chase them or separate mothers and calves.  For those visiting region, they can

Now that's a bit cheeky. Pic: Cody Doucette, Matador Network
It’s not just all about the whales though as Fraser Island is the Tailor (Pomatomus Saltatrix) capital of Australia.  These feisty sport fish are already beginning to school up in the deeper water of the Great Sandy Strait with 45cm fish sighted by locals recently.

You can catch Tailor all year round on Fraser but August is prime time – as that’s when mature fish school near the food supplies to spawn - but there is always plenty of action right up until October.  The Ranger team always encourage our visiting fisher folk to take what they need and then catch and release what they don’t – this helps maintain marine park resources.

DID YOU KNOW that Tailor can grow up to 10kg, but are usually between 1 and 2kg? They’re easily identified by their elongated bodies – the lower half is silver and the top is dark green.

Last month, we spoke at some length about Migratory Bird Day and the importance of Fraser Island as a key wetland of international importance for migrating birds.  It was with some interest that we read an article in The Courier Mail recently that pointed out several species that have yet to make their migration to Siberia for the annual breeding season – including terns (Sterna hirundo) and godwits (Limosa).

Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii) on 75-Mile Beach
Scientists have yet to decipher how birds navigate, so the current theories for this lack of movement suggest the birds haven’t been able to fatten up enough (possibly because of low pilchard numbers) or that they’ve been disturbed by vehicles.

Both Federal and State environment ministers have yet to respond or commit to a proposal to close 18km of the island’s ocean beach at the southern tip for migrating shorebirds. WATCH THIS SPACE, we’ll keep you updated.

And, until next time, stay warm tree huggers… and if it’s not warm where you live, well, we’re still swimming on Fraser Island so come and visit us.  Cheers, Ranger J.