Monday, December 12, 2011

Humpback whales' record breeding

From Humpback whales' record breeding
Humpback whales' record breeding
Updated: 03:54, Monday December 12, 2011
Humpback whales' record breeding

Australian wildlife experts are celebrating after what is believed to be the best humpback whale breeding season for 50 years.

Hundreds of mothers with newborn calves have been spotted migrating south past Australia to the cooler waters of Antarctica.

Geoff Ross, from the National Parks And Wildlife Service in New South Wales, told Sky News: 'It's been a really cracking year.

'The season used to go from June to just after July, but it is now going on for much longer and we have seen many calves.'

Earlier in the year 2,202 whales were counted during daylight hours passing Sydney's Cape Solander as they headed north to breed.

Now the humpbacks are returning south, with skippers on whale-watching boats as well as crews on commercial ships all saying there has been a definite increase in numbers, especially of juveniles.

The humpback and southern right whale populations off Australia's coast are slowly recovering after commercial whaling ended in the 1960s.

'It is excellent news,' said Mr Ross, adding 'the migration is longer, they are swimming more slowly, they are almost carefree.'

The population is growing by about 10% each year, but in Antarctica whales are still at risk from humans.

Activists have left Australia and are also heading south to try and disrupt Japanese whalers, who mainly hunt minke whales in Antarctic waters.

Last season, Japan cut short its annual whale hunt after it was obstructed on the water by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

This year, Japan plans to send a patrol ship to protect its whaling crews.

Andrea Gordon from Sea Shepherd said: 'The Japanese whaling fleet just got an infusion of an extra $30m to continue their whaling programme and Sea Shepherd has a volunteer crew funded by donations.

'We would be more than happy to step aside if the Australian government would send a fleet down to enforce international law.'

Australia has condemned Japan's decision to continue whaling, but Tokyo claims Sea Shepherd's activities are illegal harassment.

Japan introduced 'scientific whaling' to skirt a commercial ban on hunting the animals.

Last year, Australia filed a complaint against Japan at the world court in The Hague to stop scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean.

The decision is expected to come in 2013 at the earliest

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