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NPWS gears up for the whale season at The Spit

 

NPWS Director Metropolitan, Alistair Henchman said the Large Whale Disentanglement Course will build further capacity for NPWS to manage whale disentanglements off the Sydney coastline, which have been increasing every year.

“NPWS are the lead agency for marine mammal rescue including the management of entangled whales and unfortunately we are seeing more and more animals in trouble every year,” Mr Henchman said.

“We currently have a number of teams up and down the coast that undertake rescues as necessary but tomorrow’s training will see us establish a response team of highly trained specialists to tackle marine rescues in the Metropolitan area.

“Last year 2202 whales were counted by Cape Solander Whale Count volunteers, almost 3 times the number counted a decade ago.

“The east Australian humpback whale population is estimated to be around 12,000 to 14000 individuals it’s no surprise that some arrive on our coast entangled in ropes and nets that they have encountered along the way.

“Some whales have old scars from previous entanglements others can carry the ropes for months or years with the ropes gradually cutting through their bodies, flukes or fins.

“National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) recorded 12 entangled whales and one entangled dolphin along the NSW coast last year, and given it’s a dangerous exercise, specialist training is critical,” he said.

The training assists staff to prepare for the operational response of large whales entangled in rope, floats and other fishing gear and helps reduce the risk to staff undertaking the disentanglement response.

The rescue teams will undertake three days of theory and practical exercises, culminating in on-the-water training to free a four metre simulated whale tail which is tangled in long-line commercial tackle and nets tomorrow morning.

“An adult humpback is the equivalent size of 11 elephants and their massive tails are extremely powerful which is why only specially trained staff should attempt a rescue,” Mr Henchman said.

“Every rescue is different, but the priority in every case is the safety of staff and the animal’s wellbeing – a process that requires specialist training and annual review.”

NPWS leads the marine mammal rescue response, working closely with a number of partners including ORRCA, Maritime, Sydney Ports Authority, Water Police, SeaWorld, RSPCA, Taronga and commercial operators on a number of different aspects.

Mr Henchman said the course is being led by Doug Coughran from Western Australia’s Department of Environment and Conservation (WA DEC).

“Doug Coughran is acknowledged as the best external provider of this training,” Mr Henchman said.

“WA DEC is the only registered training organisation within Australia that delivers a nationally accredited unit of competence in relation to large whale disentanglement.”

Whales face a number of threats on their migration, especially while calving and protecting their young.

They undertake a staggering 5000km in their journey between Antarctica and Queensland and face a number of threats along the way, including accidental entanglement.

The whale season officially gets underway on June 1 every year.

For more information about the whale migration visit www.wildaboutwhales.com.au


Whale Facts:

  • The annual whale migration begins when they return home from their summer feeding grounds in Antarctica and lasts until around September when they travel back often with their calves.
  • The rate of increase of the East Coast population between 1978 and 1999 was around 11%.
  • Species sighted off Sydney’s coast include Humpback Whales, Southern Right Whales, Minke whales, Melon-headed Whales and dolphins.
  • Humpback whales grow to 19 metres in length (females), are around 4.6m long when born and weigh in excess of 50 tonnes as adults.
  • Whaling is banned within 200 nautical miles of Australia's coastline – making our waters a safe haven for many whales.
  • Some of the larger whales can reach 100 years or more.

How close is too close?

  • For a vessel, the approach distance is 100m from the whale.
  • When calves are in the pod, the approach distance for a vessel is 300m.
  • For a prohibited vessel, the approach distance is always 300m from a whale.
  • Helicopters must not get closer (in height or distance) than 500m to a whale or dolphin.
  • Other planes must not get closer (in height or distance) than 300m to a whale or dolphin.
  • What are the fines for ignoring the rules?

$300 Penalty Infringement Notices for disobeying the direction of our rangers
Corporations face fines of $220,000 and individuals face fines of up to $11,000 and two years in jail.

 

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