When are the whales due here” I ask. “They’ll be here on July 1” said the young woman confidently. I had no idea whales were so punctual, and doubt that they are. The young woman was talking about when their whale watching tours started but I enjoyed imagining all the whales arriving on the same day.
Each January, about 60,000 humpback whales leave the icy cold, food-rich waters of Antarctica and begin a 5,000 kilometre, three-month journey to the warmer waters of northern Australia. About 25,000 head up past Tasmania and continue up the east coast of Australia to Hervey Bay in Queensland. The other 35,000 travel up the west coast past Broome to Camden Sound where they mate and calve. The African wildebeest migration is around 3,000 kms, giving the world record for the longest mammal migration to the humpback whale.
Broome has front row seats to this extraordinary phenomenon. In Broome expectations start to grow through the year as humpbacks are seen from various coastal towns as they head north. Late May and early June reports from Exmouth confirm that before too long (and probably before July 1) the humpbacks will be in Broome.
Camden Sound Marine Park, the final destination for the west coast cohort, is regarded as the most important humpback whale nursery in the southern hemisphere. Cows will spend months here birthing then raising their calves before making the long-haul back down the coast to the Antarctica, where they will meet up with their east coast cousins to swap photos and tell stories of their trips up north.
Broome is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. They can regularly be seen from the beach, occasionally giving beach dwellers a great show of breaching and tail slapping. There are so many whales between July and September that Broome’s longest operating Whale Watching company offer guaranteed whale sightings on their whale watching cruises. In the unlikely event of not seeing whales, they offer a repeat trip on board or offer a free gift voucher, redeemable by friend or family. When the whale watching boat sets out, its usually only a few kms out before there are whales galore.
This year it looks like we’ll have more whales than America has guns with early sightings in Roebuck Bay and off Cable Beach creating great excitement within the whale watching community. Broome Whale Watching posted their first sighting for the year on 5 June on their Facebook page. “NEWSFLASH - The first whale for 2019 has been spotted just off Cable Beach! Whooohooo!” Then on 19 June “Roebuck Bay never ceases to surprise us! Our guests were treated to another visit from a friendly humpback whale on yesterday’s morning eco cruise. 5 sightings of whales over the past 2 weeks. Can’t wait to start whale watching cruises in Broome!”
The humpbacks, not unlike our grey nomads, have been making this annual migration for tens of thousands of years. The Yawuru people with a tenure of 60,000 years or so have an ongoing connection to the humpback whales and have several words for them including minimbi and yari. The Yawuru people quite possibly have the world’s longest whale watching tradition.
If the humpbacks were all to arrive on July 1, there would be thousands of them waiting just south of Broome ready to start flooding in like bargain hunters waiting for Myers to open the doors on their Boxing Day sales. In Broome there are 3 different operators offering whale watching cruises. So, you’ll never miss the opportunity to get out on the water and have an experience that is just #SoBroome.
Photo credit: Broome Whale Watching
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