HHR  - July-October Newsletter 2018
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Humpbacks & High-Rises

Whale Tails 2018/3

This is our quarterly newsletter bringing you a summary of the urban marine mammal world. Facts, Stories and Events. Join us on the largest mammal migration on earth!
Quarter Summary 
The whale season on the Gold Coast saw an early start with whales sighted as early as mid April.
Whale Season Start
by CEO Olaf Meynecke

We had an early start of the whale season with the first pods spotted off Burleigh Heads mid April. There are also some other unusual reports for this start of the 2018 whale season. Sightings of newborns along the NSW coasts and even Victoria. 

Some Killer whales were sighted off North Stradebroke in June and a possible minke whale in early June. Migaloo has decided to take the New Zealand passage again as he did some years ago. So we did not see him coming along the coast like we did last year. 

Boat strikes and noise pollution remain an ongoing issue with more and more whales seen that have damage from propellers or boat hulls. 

The first whale entanglement happened on the 16th July at Burleigh Heads with likely more to come.

HHR was well covered in local media covering varies topics from whale festivals to whale entanglements.

Olaf Meynecke
Sunsets over a pod of whales in the Gold Coast bay turning their exhaled air into golden mist
Newborn humpback whale calves are swimming north through Gold Coast bay
by Laura

As reported previously, the Gold Coast bay has been experiencing a recent trend of hosting newborn humpback whale calves being born on the northern migration. This year the trend continues and is being documented by research teams from HHR and mother and calf whale researcher Laura Torre- Williams and her research assistants. This year we have a very strong focus on documenting as many newborns as possible and we have a number of researchers on the water looking for newborns.  Whales in Paradise based in Surfers Paradise is hosting Laura’s newborn study and we are trying to get a researcher on most whale watch tours so that we can increase our survey effort over previous years.  HHR research teams are out on the water continuing their long term behavioural study working with the different commercial operators while also recording any newborns found in the bay.
The first newborn of the 2018 season was sighted on 3 July at 930am slowly swimming north with its mother just past the Southport Seaway. Data recorded for all newborn sightings include calf colour, calf size, presence of foetal folds and a neck indent, as well as swimming skill. One of the most important age indicators of the newborns is the tilt of their dorsal fin. Newborns with a very tilted dorsal fin are the youngest animals in the bay, as their dorsal fins stiffen and straighten with age. We urge all boaties to GO SLOW IF YOU SEE A BLOW and to LOOK OUT CALVES ABOUT during the whale migration season.
Marine Mammal Symposium
by Laura 

Dr Olaf Meynecke presented recent research on humpback whale strandings at the recent Australia Marine Sciences Association (AMSA) Conference in Adelaide as part of a two-day marine mammal symposium. His talk entitled “The Influence of Environmental Drivers on Marine Mammal Stranding of the East Coast of Australia “, detailed some contributing factors such as unusual weather events, magnetic disturbances, disease, exposure to pollution, vessel strikes and fishing interactions. The talk was well received at the conference as this topic is of particular interest to a number of scientists working with cetaceans.
Laura Torre-Williams, visiting scholar with Griffith University and HHR Research Associate also presented research findings at the conference. Her presentation was entitled “Newborn humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) observations in the Gold Coast Bay, Queensland, Australia”.  The talk detailed that a total of 75 newborn calves were observed mostly in July and August in 2013 to 2016 in the Gold Coast bay. The study suggests that humpback whales are utilising warm and shallow waters in south-east Queensland to birth their calves whilst still on migration. These findings may signify that this population is expanding its calving range into unknown and unprotected areas. 
Whale entanglement of Burleigh Heads
by Holly

“It was Monday the 16th of July, we were out on the ocean enjoying the sunrise. The ocean was calm and quiet; we had not seen our usual pod of bottlenose dolphins and there were only a few sea birds in the sky. It was the day after a Humpback Whale had died in the Kurrawa shark net in 2017, we were already feeling pretty ‘off’. The water’s surface was like glass; it had been this way over the weekend. We were driving close to shore parallel to the many Gold Coast shark nets and drumlines. It was ~7:30am once we reached Burleigh, we noticed the last 25m of the shark net had broken away, floating ~20 m from the rest of the net. We investigated further by going along the net, trying to search for what had caused such a disruption. There were no signs of any marine animals or boats which had become entangled. We assumed if it was a Humpback Whale that became entangled during the night, that it released itself and had left the scene. We continued our morning journey down the coast.
Later at 9:05am we received a message confirming an entangled Humpback Whale traveling South-East about 1km off Burleigh headland, carrying parts of the shark net. We searched for about 20 mins, however it felt like we were trying to find a needle in a haystack. In that moment I realised how big the ocean truly is. Once we gave up searching for the whale it was only 2 mins after until we finally located the whale on our way back inshore. We thought it was a calf at first, he was all alone and looked very small. Every couple of minutes was a huge blow that filled the sky, and relieved us of our ongoing stress. He was very calm but exhausted. We got closer to see exactly how the individual had been entangled. It was like he had been wrapped in a sock over his entire body. The net was all around his face, and had tightened around his pectoral fins. He had twisted himself, tightening the ropes. You could see cuts on his body, the worst being the one behind the dorsal fin, along the spine. It was bleeding. The whale was completely silent. It was as if he was determining if we were going to hurt him or help him. We called QLD Fisheries, and they had confirmed they were already on their way to help. We were with the whale for about 30-45 minutes. Just us and the whale. I have never felt so helpless. You could feel the stress, trauma and exhaustion in his blow. He kept putting his nose out of the water, and kept trying to dive down. We could literally see the amount of stress the individual was experiencing.

One of the largest animals on earth had been silenced by man-kinds fear of sharks. I couldn’t help but feel responsible for his entanglement, I felt so disappointed as a species to have done this to another animal. We are all responsible for this. Our general fear of sharks and lack of knowledge has led to the great entanglements of Humpback Whales since 1962 when the shark nets were first installed. Shark nets have been responsible for thousands of marine animal deaths. A net that is 186m long and 6m deep situated along 11 of the Gold Coast beaches, has not shown any scientific evidence that it is protecting beach goers from potential human-shark interactions. The shark nets are outdated, and need to be replaced immediately with safer alternatives such as drone and/or helicopter surveillance, shark spotters and shark tagging etc. to avoid future entanglements. I personally would feel much safer swimming in the ocean with a drone above my head, or having an app on my phone alerting me of all the sharks nearby than with nets that have dead animals in them. 
A humpback whale caught of Burleigh Heads in a shark net.
EcoVoices meets Gold Coast Whales
by Michelle
Karina Donkers rejoined HHR this year all the way from Torquay where she is better known as giving a voice to nature via her EcoVoices initiative. It was a pleasure to interview her straight off her shift with Whales in Paradise and I was greeted with 'I finally saw a breach from a boat..well not just one but eight!' Both Karina and her team member Jeff Hancock described so many behaviours they hadn't witnessed before, reinforcing that every day in whale research is different.
I asked Karina how did Eco Voices begin and would she like it to achieve?
~ Eco Voices was developed by myself after spending many years volunteering in environmental organisations and working in community development I felt that my time was better spent dedicated full time to working towards a more sustainable world.  The aim of Eco Voices is to encourage people to fall in love with the natural world again, and use that point of connection to inspire them to be active in the healing of the world. This is done through workshop delivery, events, networking and education as well as travelling around gathering and sharing inspiring stories from people innovative change and providing a voice to the voiceless species of the world.
Explain Deep Ecology- Eco Voices connection to deep ecology
~ Eco voices was inspired partly by my recently training in The Work That Reconnects Deep Ecology with Joanna Macy. Deep ecology is supporting people to recognise that we are part of a larger living organism and experience our deep interconnectedness. This deep remembering awakens people ecological sense of self and activates our drive to protect our life support system.
How that connects to HHR and the whales? What are your thoughts on your time with HHR?
~ HHR is doing amazing work with the Humpback whales and are a key organisation to protecting these ancient magical creatures.  The voice of the humpbacks is being vocalised through HHR on a national and international scale, and is a story that I felt was important to share and celebrate.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with HHR and am inspired by the enthusiasm and knowledge held by the volunteers I had the privilege to work alongside.
Whale volunteer 
by Jas

I have always been so passionate about the difference a small group of people can make, and the great need for such people in this ever changing world. The opportunity I have received through Humpbacks and High-rises has brought me closer to the ocean I love and the people who share this same motivation for positive change. As a student, I have been able to gain an insight into the world of marine science and research, further fuelling my future desires. Not only have I been able to experience the incredible humpback whales that cruise along our coastline and learn about their unique behaviours and traits, but I have been able to gain knowledge about how to record data. This has given me the chance to have close contact with these amazing creatures while contributing to important research. As a new volunteer I have found the existing members really supportive and knowledgeable, making it easy to develop my own understanding during the surveys.

On my first survey I was almost brought to tears with my initial whale encounter. I realised how important this type of work is in spreading awareness and scaffolding future change, so I felt driven to continue being just a ‘drop in the ocean’ in the fight for our marine life. It also allows participants to step beyond the beauty of this interaction into the understanding that comes with knowing about certain behaviours and occurrences, giving purpose and meaning with each passing pod. The experience is unparalleled and as I continue to learn and contribute in a small and simple way, I gain an invaluable kickstart into the world of marine science. For this I am grateful.
Upcoming Events & volunteer opportunities

You can help making a difference and be part of our growing group of whale and dolphin researchers. 
  • We have a stall on the 30th July at MBRS. Come join us!
  • Participate in our research expeditions!
  • Be part of our dedicated volunteer team and sign up. Whale season from end of May to October 2018 with the last training seminar held in September. Send us an e-mail to to register. 
  • Want to be part of the core team and get the real deal? Join our dedicated team that runs HHR at our monthly general meetings. Held at the end of each month. Next meeting end of August 2018.
  • Sign our petition: You can stop whale entanglements by supporting our Stop whale entanglement letter and request alternative methods to be put in place and developed. Do you know a business on the Gold Coast that would like to endorse the open letter? Please, send us an e-mail.
HHR relies on the interest, support and good will of people who feel that protecting marine mammals and learning about them is important. We are honest, independent and stand for the well being of our natural wonders and a sustainable whale watching industry. Our ongoing work entirely depends on donation. Please, consider donating for whale research and protection.


You can support whale protection and research in south-east Queensland; a small donation goes a long way.


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Humpbacks & High-Rises Inc · Post Office Mail Box 195 · Gold Coast, Queensland 4222 · Australia

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