East or west coast. Which highway has the heaviest humpback traffic?
Each year whales travel around 5000km on average, one of the longest migratory journeys of any mammal on Earth. Australia is quite privileged when it comes to whales – over 50 per cent of the world’s cetaceans are found in Australian waters and with all the whales cruising along the NSW coastline, you can see we call it New South W(h)ales for a reason!
Humpback whales are found in all the oceans of the world. Each year humpback whales set off on their annual migration from the cooler Antarctic waters, in search of warmer waters for calving and mating. Some of these humpbacks travel past Australia and others migrate towards the east and west coasts of Africa, and the Americas.
But, when it comes to Australian whales, who sees the most whales – east or west?
The west coast takes the size prize with approximately 40,000 whales expected to travel along the coast this year. NSW is not too far behind with about 30,000 expected.
Both populations are recovering from almost extinction due to whaling, with growth at about 10 per cent per year. The reason for the gap in population numbers is said to be because whaling ceased to be profitable earlier in Western Australia - about twenty years before it ended on the east coast.
It is thought that the reason some whales choose the east coast and others seem to prefer west coast, is a learned behaviour based on survival and how quickly they can get to reliable food and ideal breeding grounds. Just like humans, whales choose the quickest/simple route using the coast as a navigation aid. Mothers with newborn calves will visit areas they visited with their mothers and theirs before that.