Tasmania hopes Southern Right Whales recover so Hobart becomes a whale nursery again

Right whale calf born in Derwent River, Hobart, Tasmania

Hundreds came to see a right whale calf born in Derwent River, Hobart, Tasmania/ Photo by Stephen_Turtle

Tasmania wants to become a whale watching destination and thinks recovering Southern Right Whale numbers will help, the Mercury reports. The population is about one-tenth its former size, but the first calf born in the Derwent River in 190 years in August is offering some hope.

Southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) would be a big draw. They migrate north past the eastern shore of Tasmania in June to September, then turn around and head south until November. For all anyone knows they might be on the west side, too; just not that many boats are there. (Tasmania has also been the site of tragic, mysterious mass whale strandings in 2008 and 2009)

This summer a whale gave birth in Hobart’s Derwent River, the first time that’s happened since the 1820s. Wildlife biologist think the area might once again become a whale nursery. The waters here were once so filled with whales it was considered dangerous to cross in a small boat. Residents would complain of the noise of all those whales blowing out in the river.

Now that kind of thing would draw people from all over the world. Hundreds of people came by to see the mother and calf. Few calving grounds can be seen from shore anywhere. Plus, onshore viewing means that people don’t bother whales. If more whales started calving here, it really would be one of the most amazing whale watching spots in the world.

Back in the 1800s, 32 whaling stations worked the waters of this little island south of Australia. There hasn’t been much whaling in the last century, but it’s still taken that long to recover just this much. Humpbacks are back. But right whales take longer to breed.

Southern right whales are now listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN Red List, which rates two northern right whale species endangered. The southern whales are “still scarce relative to its historic abundance,” which was about 55,000 to 70,000. In 2007 there were an estimated 3,200 mature females worldwide, double the number of a decade earlier. Their big breeding area in this (relative) neck of the woods are Auckland Islands and Campbell Islands

Adding whale-watching may be a bit greedy on Tasmania’s part. They’ve already got an incredible list of wildlife to tour to see: Tasmanian Devils, platypus, kangaroos, fairy penguins, echidna, quoll. Now, even if that whole thylacine thing (the Tasmanian Tiger, supposedly went extinct in the 30s, but you can still go on an expedition to look for it) doesn’t pan out, they’ve got great whales.

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