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Why People Love Whales

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Wild About Whales
Humpback whale tail slap. Photo: S.Cohen/OEH

Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t love whales? Along with dolphins, these majestic marine mammals are very fondly thought of world wide. And thankfully, because they are so fondly thought of, people are beginning to give them their due space and are realising the importance of protecting them for future generations.

During whale watching season along the NSW coastline, people flock to the NSW national parks for a glimpse of the whales on their annual migration from some amazing locations.

Collective ooohs and aaahs can be heard along coastal cliff tops as these whales come to the surface and are applauded almost like the rock gods of the deep. So… what are some of the reasons people love whales?

Whales are gentle

Imagine if whales had large sharp teeth like sharks, and still showed their inquisitive side of wanting to get close to humans? Thankfully they don’t. They are called gentle giants for a reason and it’s wonderful that for the most part the interactions whales have with us humans are gentle, pleasant and always memorable.

Most whale species, really only with the exception of orcas, are also gentle to each other. They swim in family units with the mothers protecting their young and gently coaxing them along their migratory journey.

Watching the way they move, and hearing the recorded sounds they can make, is often hypnotic and calming. They are social animals, enjoying the company of each other, and like dolphins, showing a curiosity and inquisitive nature when it comes to interactions with us humans.

Whales are mysterious

Let’s face it, anything this size that spends most of its time hidden in the deep blue in an environment largely unknown to us is interesting. There’s almost a sense of mystery around whales – they're a breathing, warm blooded mammal like us humans, but how they live is quite mysterious really. And perhaps it’s one reason why we love them and strive for interactions to try and get a better understanding of them.

Whales are big

It’s no secret, whales are big. They stand out. They’re hard to miss. Even from afar, we can watch these giants push through the ocean, spray water from their blowholes and if we’re lucky, partake in their amazing range of water acrobatics.

Humpback whales are the most common whales seen in Australian waters and with the adults growing 14-18 metres long, their sheer size is pretty cool. And how on earth do they propel such a large body up, and at times completely out, of the ocean? What they can do with their huge bodies is a sight to behold. Even whale calves, which are born from 4-5 metres in length, are bigger than most other animals you will see in your lifetime.

Whales are intelligent

Everyone loves their ‘smart friend’. Well whales are quite intelligent too. They are complex, often highly social and intelligent creatures. Some whale species are known to produce loud sounds often referred to as a whale song, they live in at times very complex social structures and have been shown to socialise, forage, care for their young and travel together in groups just as we do.

Whales are resilient

They are strong. They have to be if they’re to survive out there, and their resilience is to be admired. They’ve been around for a while, having developed from land mammals that lived in warm salty waters about 55 million years ago.

Their resilience is perhaps best shown through their annual migration. Whales migrate because over time their feeding grounds and their breeding grounds have become separated. Now our whales undertake some of the longest migrations, between their food source and safe breeding areas, in the animal kingdom.

Besides all of this, whales were pushed to the verge of extinction through whaling in the last century. Thankfully, the numbers have rebounded tremendously in our waters as a result of their protected status.

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