The first Whale Heritage Site in Australia and joint first in the world
Known as the Whale Watching Capital of Australia, Hervey Bay is famous for the beautiful beaches and abundant marine life along its coastline.
Hervey Bay is renowned for viewing the Southern Humpback whale between July to November, with the population on the rise and recovering after a history of whaling. In May, they leave their rich feeding grounds in Antarctica and undergo a 5000 km migration to their breeding grounds north of Fraser Island, in Whitsundays. At the beginning of the season, adult individuals are likely to be seen, while mothers and their calves arrive towards the end. They use the Hervey Bay site as a ‘whale nursery’ for resting and socialising, for about five days, before they undertake their long migration back to Antarctica. Hervey Bay is one of the few places in the world where multiple mothers and calves join together in one pod.
The Hervey Bay community has embraced “their” whales and the pride and sense of connection that local residents and businesses feel with regard to whales is clear to see throughout the town.
Hervey Bay became the world’s first certified Whale Heritage Site (along with The Bluff) in October, 2019.
- Region – Oceania
- Country – Australia
- Area/State – Queensland
- Area size – 1390 km2
- Region – Oceania
- Humpback whales
- Australian humpback dolphins
- Bottlenose dolphins
- Minke whales
- False killer whales
- Southern right whales
- Brydes whales
Hervey Bay is situated in Queensland, 280km north of the State capital of Brisbane. The site is defined by the existing Great Sandy Marine Park boundary, with the primary area being Hervey Bay and Platypus Bay. The Great Sandy Marine Park was awarded Biosphere Reserve status by UNESCO in 2009. The site also encompasses the mainland township of Hervey Bay in the south to Bundaberg in the north and the sheltered western coastline of World Heritage listed Fraser Island.
The site is a 1,390 square-kilometre area and covers about 23 percent of the Great Sandy Marine Park, spanning from Rooneys Point, across to Burrum Heads, and as far south as Big Woody Island. This area is managed closely by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) under the Queensland State Government Department of Environment and Science.
Cetaceans regularly seen
More than 20,000 Humpback whales migrate through this area each year, with more than 8,000 of them using the calm waters of Hervey Bay to rest and nurse their new-born calves as they make their return trip to Antarctica.
The site also hosts various other cetaceans, including the endangered Australian humpback dolphin, Bottlenose dolphins, Minke whales, False killer whales and increased sightings of Southern Right Whales.
Migaloo, the famous white humpback, has also been sighted in the area.
Dolphins are the native totem of the Hervey Bay Butchulla People and were called Boothu or Yul’u or Djamarmee.
The clans are not permitted to hunt, harm or eat the dolphins and the dolphins repaid this respect by assisting the indigenous people with their fishing. Dolphins would round up schools of mullet, confusing them into a huddle and steering them towards land, into the waiting nets or spears. The Butchulla and the dolphins then shared the tucker – creating a trusting relationship.
Things to do
- Go on a responsible whale watching trip.
- Visit during the annual month-long Hervey Bay Whale Festival.
- Attend the annual Hervey Bay Whale Parade and Concert.
- Visit Fraser Island.
- Visit the Urangan Pier and spot whales from land.
Achieving Whale Heritage Site Status
Each Whale Heritage Site has a unique route to meeting the criteria set out by the WCA. Check out some of the highlights from the Hervey Bay Whale Heritage Site:
Encouraging Respectful Human-Cetacean Coexistence
Hervey Bay benefits from excellent management of the ocean environment and supports and enhances responsible whale watching tours and other marine activities.
The responsible whale watching industry is managed through a combination of whale watching guidelines, a permit system, in-depth training, and compliance enforcement. The number of permits for commercial tours and research vessels has reduced over the years, and the number of whale watch vessels able to access the Marine Park is now capped to further protect the whales and dolphins of Hervey Bay.
Ongoing research and transparent communication helps the site to share knowledge and build ownership within the industry in a sustainable way.
Hervey Bay has a well-established community engagement program that has been operating and evolving over many years.
The annual Hervey Bay Whale Festival takes place in July/August and is a month-long celebration of the whales that visit these waters. This festival comprises of several events, including:
- The Blessing of the K’gari Waters (Hervey Bay) Whale Watch Fleet.
- Paddle Out for the Whales – this began in the late 1990s as a protest against Japanese commercial whaling, but continues today as a celebration of whales and is one of the most popular local events.
- Hervey Bay Seafood Festival.
- Creating Waves – a new community engagement event launched in 2021.
The Whale Parade and Concert invites local individuals and groups to enter a street parade and decorate a float with an ocean-related theme. Hundreds participate in the parade and 6,000 – 8,000 people line the streets to watch the floats travel along the Esplanade to the city’s Seafront Oval, where a concert and other entertainment takes place.
Fraser Coast Discovery Sphere (located within the Hervey Bay Regional Gallery) is a family-friendly educational centre, featuring many environmental and cultural displays, including a 22-tonne sculpture of the much-loved and documented Humpback whale ‘Nala’.
For the World Whale Conference in 2019, artists Cave Urban and the Fraser Coast community created a stunning bamboo art piece that can be found at the Hervey Bay Visitor Information Centre. This eco-friendly creation aims to inspire change while protecting the cetacean habitat from ocean-destroying plastics.
Working Towards Sustainability
Annual beach clean-ups highlight ocean pollution and encourage people to adopt sustainable practices to preserve the environment. The clean-up activities also draw media coverage, helping to broadcast the message to the Fraser Coast community.
The site is setting up a community-based action group, led by a prominent academic, to engage a range of stakeholders in monitoring environmental issues across the whole of the Great Sandy Marine Park. This group will be an important advocate for sustainable oceans and shorelines, in consultation with regulatory authorities.
Developing Research, Education and Awareness Programmes
For the last three decades, cetacean research has played an important role within the region, and continues to do so.
The Oceania Project, founded by Dr Trish and Wally Franklin, ran whale research expeditions in Hervey Bay from 1989 to 2013. This long-term research platform succeeded in cataloguing almost 3,000 individual Humpback whales and long-term life histories on over 600 individuals in the bay.
The Pacific Whale Foundation has been studying Humpback whales in Hervey Bay for 30 years, as well as the University of Queensland, Sydney University, Southern Cross University and University of the Sunshine Coast, which has its Marine Research Campus within the site.
Along with research, education has a strong emphasis at Hervey Bay, with the Whale Discovery Sphere open seven days a week for educating the public.
Junior Whale Whisperer, an annual education program, is delivered in schools to educate primary students about Humpback whales and encourages classes to enter whale-related group art projects.
Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) and Urangan State High School (USHS) partnered together during the 2021 Whale Season to engage year 10 marine science students in annual community research on whales and marine life in the Great Sandy Marine Park. Team members from PWF presented two in-class demonstrations and instruction on research methodology and the need to further understand the population dynamics of our marine life, followed by an on-water morning aboard the PWF Whale Watch vessel ‘Ocean Defender’ for practical data collection.
Creating Waves has been scheduled as an annual Hervey Bay Whale Festival event to engage the local community in new and ongoing research projects, as well as increase awareness of the activities of the Hervey Bay WHS Steering Committee.
Who is leading the process locally?
The Steering Committee members are:
- Cr George Seymour (Patron, Mayor, Fraser Coast Regional Council)
- Dr Kathy Townsend (Chair, University of the Sunshine Coast)
- Martin Simons (Fraser Coast Tourism & Events)
- Shahab Pourfakhimi (University of the Sunshine Coast)
- Michelle Hay (University of the Sunshine Coast)
- Susan Gillespie (Fraser Coast Tourism & Events)
- Steve Hoseck (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services)
- Daniel Clifton (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services)
- Phil House (Boat Club Adventure Cruises)
- Peter Lynch (Blue Dolphin Marine Tours)
- Ken Diehm (Fraser Coast Regional Council)
- Dr Wally Franklin (The Oceania Project)
- Andrew Ellis (Pacific Whale Foundation)
- Kelly Dorries (Urangan State High School)
- Hannah Walker (Committee Secretariat, Fraser Coast Tourism & Events)
- Lisa Aurisch (Meeting Coordinator, University of the Sunshine Coast)
Find out more about the Hervey Bay Whale Heritage Site here.
Actions and Recommendations
As part of the awarding of WHS certified status, the Independent Review Panel (IRP) set out a series of actions and recommendations for the site to complete before or by the end of Year 2 of WHS certified status.
Swimming with whales
The judges recommend that ongoing research must be prioritised to assess the impact of any swim-with-whales programmes, with results feeding in to future management strategies. It is understood that the Pacific Whale Foundation are currently undertaking this research.
The judges request any early results as soon as they are available and preferably before the end of Year 1 WHS certified status.
Economic and environmental balance
The judges recommend that the Hervey Bay Steering Committee (or other coordinating body) should seek to develop a more integrated approach to research, conservation, and educational initiatives, and to encourage projects that improve the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the Whale Heritage Site.
The Committee should consider the value of dedicated research and citizen science opportunities, and further opportunities to engage with academic institutions and community groups. Mechanisms should be put in place to encourage ongoing reduction of environmental impacts in order to enhance the social and educational benefits from watching cetaceans.
Before the end of Year 1 WHS certified status, the Steering Committee (or other coordinating body) will provide a draft action plan with measurable goals to achieve objectives agreed as the highest priority.
The judges also noted that the Hervey Bay Steering Committee might consider the establishment of a whale museum/education/visitor centre, a model that has worked very well elsewhere (e.g. Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Maui, Hawaii; Rarotonga, Cook Islands etc.).