The annual migration of thousands of humpback whales up the Australian east coast has begun.
Environment and Heritage Protection Minister Andrew Powell said humpbacks had already been spotted, and large numbers of the huge mammals would be in Queensland’s waters from late May.
“Humpbacks migrate from Antarctica in early autumn, heading up to the Whitsundays and further north to mate and give birth before returning south in the spring,” Mr Powell said.
“It’s one of nature’s great spectacles and every year people come from far and wide to enjoy the passing parade.
Mr Powell said around 17,000 humpback whales were expected to make the journey this year and urged people to give them a wide berth.
“It’s really important to watch out for whales when you’re out on the water. These are big animals and can weigh more than a fully loaded semi-trailer,” he said.
“They can also be unpredictable, so anyone who gets too close is putting themselves and the whale at risk.
“I urge people to do the right thing and give these animals plenty of room. There’s more than enough ocean for all.”
Mr Powell said boats were required to keep at least 100 metres away while jet skis and other personal watercraft must stay up to 300 metres away from any whales.
In the whale protection zone of the Whitsunday, Lindeman and Gloucester islands groups where many whales deliver their calves, no boat can go closer than 300 metres.
The maximum penalty for intentionally moving closer to a whale than permitted under the conservation plan is $12,000, and on-the-spot fines ranging from $300 to $500 may also apply for various contraventions.
The rules for ‘special interest’ whales like Migaloo or the white whale calf seen last year, are even stricter. No-one can bring a boat or jet ski closer than 500m or fly an aircraft closer than 2,000ft to these whales without written permission.
The maximum penalty for getting too close to a white whale is $16,500.
Mr Powell said sightings of Migaloo or any other white whale could be reported to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection on 1300 130 372.
Concerns about injured or stranded animals can be reported to the RSPCA on 1300 264 625.
For more information and regulations for whale-watching please visit www.ehp.qld.gov.au.