THE humpback whales at Port Stephens have captured the hearts of close to 1000 people who formed a giant outline of the mammal at Shoal Bay Beach on Wednesday. Residents and tourists, including many families, gathered on the beach at midday to commemorate 40 years since the end of whaling in Australia.Skipper of Imagine Cruises Frank Future said while it had been 40 years since whaling finished in Australia, it was actually stopped 50 years ago on the east coast. ‘‘Someone has to stand up for the environment and Australians have taken whales on as being a special icon,’’ he said. ‘‘Australia led the world in banning whaling, nine years before it was made illegal worldwide.’’ Whale-watching attracts 50,000 tourists and $10 million in revenue to the Port Stephens region every year.
In 1973, only a few hundred humpbacks migrated up the east coast past Port Stephens but now around 17,000 can be seen off the shores each winter. Numbers are almost back to the levels after World War 2 when the population was approximately 20,000 whales. ‘‘Not everyone in the country gets to see whales off their coastline,’’ Mr Future said. ‘‘I think while we’ve got whales, people feel there’s something right with the world. This is one of the good conservation stories.’’
Organisers from Port Stephens’ three major whale-watch operations, Imagine Cruises, Moonshadow Cruises and Tamboi Queen Cruises, organised the formation of the 100m-long outline of a humpback whale. They attempted the same formation three years ago but attracted half the amount of people. Destination Port Stephens marketing manager, Tars Bylhouwer said the shoot coincides with the recently launched ‘Go Wild’ campaign to promote whale-watching and adventure in Port Stephens.
It also comes at a time when Australia, with the support of New Zealand, has asked the International Court of Justice to withdraw all permits for future whale hunts from Japanese fleets in the Southern Ocean. Australia believes Japan is using scientific research as an excuse to conduct commercial whaling in defiance of an international ban. The landmark hearings in The Hague, The Netherlands began on June 26 and are scheduled to run until July 16. The decision by the top UN court will be final, as there is no appeals process.