THIS year’s whale watching season in Hervey Bay is reflecting an important jump in passenger numbers following a record low 2021 season brought on by COVID-19 lockdowns, which – according to one industry insider – struck at the worst possible time.
While the entire fleet’s official passenger numbers for 2022 are yet to be released, initial indications are that the number of people who boarded whale watching boats to view the visiting humpbacks frolicking in Platypus Bay has increased by about 20 per cent year-on-year.
An important piece of data for a region so dependent on tourism.
Rebecca Greenshields from Whalesong Cruises gave an overview of the industry’s performance this year at a Hervey Bay Chamber of Commerce business breakfast this morning.
The local business community packed into the Hervey Bay RSL to listen to Rebecca’s presentation on whale watching, which she described as “everyone’s business” on the Fraser Coast.
The nine tour operators (or 10 boats on the water) represent a $5.5-million industry but it’s the knock-on effect that goes even further.
“When people come whale watching they need a place to stay, they need somewhere to eat and they might even need parts for their caravans or cars,” Rebecca explained.
“Whale watching tourism really is everyone’s business here in Hervey Bay.”
Rebecca said it was great to see a recovery in the industry, as it was not just a lifeline to the tour operators.
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“Whale watching is the second key tourism element for the region after day trips to K’gari (Fraser Island) and the whole season only operates for about a quarter of the year.
“So, the snap lockdown in 2021 right in the heart of the whale watching season created a lot of anxiety among operators.”
Last year’s passenger numbers were the lowest in 30 years.
One of the biggest positives for Rebecca though is the room for growth within the local industry.
She said the total passenger capacity for the whole whale watching fleet in Hervey Bay was an estimated 107,000 people per year.
And with figures peaking in the mid to late 1990s at around 80,000 passengers a year – there’s definitely room for more people to come and watch the region’s famed humpback whales breaching and playing in the calm waters of Platypus Bay.
“Potential growth in the whale watching industry means potential growth for all businesses,” said Rebecca.
PHOTOS: Shaun Ryan / Good News Fraser Coast
Why is Hervey Bay the whale watching gold standard?
- In 2019 Hervey Bay was declared the first whale heritage site in the world.
- About 40,000 humpback whales migrate along the East coast of Australia every year. About 30 per cent enter Platypus Bay.
- The bay is protected from the open ocean by K’gari (Fraser Island) making it an ideal nursery for mothers and calves. Newborns can feed safely and gain strength before continuing their migration.
- Humpbacks that enter the bay often stay for a number of days – meaning they are calm and relaxed. Whale watching boats in Platypus Bay can get right up close to humpbacks that are often playful and inquisitive.
- The protection offered by K’gari (Fraser Island) means the water is calm – making for ideal whale watching conditions.
- Hervey Bay is a half-day drive from Brisbane meaning it is easily accessible for tourists travelling by road. Its airport means those coming from further away can also fly into the region.
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“Hervey Bay was the first ever whale heritage site – and there are only four in the world. This is an incredible accolade for the region. We are the gold standard for whale watching,” said Rebecca.
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