Fisherman scared as humpbacks rush his boat
A TOWNSVILLE man got a scare yesterday when he saw a pod of six humpback whales rushing towards his boat.
Joe Martin took a friend out fishing near the Cape Cleveland Light yesterday about 2pm when he saw the mammals approaching.
The whales were heading straight for his boat and he became afraid the boat would be swamped so he quickly started up his motor and sounded the horn.
The whales dived underneath the boat and resurfaced on the other side.
They came so close he was almost able to reach out and touch them.
Mr Martin said it was a surreal experience.
"It was a once in a lifetime opportunity," he said.
"People chase them for a living and here they were in our backyard."
He spent about half an hour watching the animals before they headed out to the open reef.
Humpback whales have been frolicking in Cleveland Bay over the past week as they begin their migration to warmer northern waters.
Mothers and their calves are expected to be a common sight, playing in the waters off Townsville from now to August, and then in September as they move south again.
Passengers on board the Magnetic Island ferry were treated to displays of whales breaching near the vessel in Nelly Bay last week and whale watching tourists were not disappointed.
Townsville Whale Watching Tours marine biologist Chris Mirbach said the graceful giants had been sighted weeks earlier than was usual around the Palm Islands.
"They normally start to arrive this time of the year, but we had someone tell us they had seen a single adult humpback whale at Myrmidon Reef two weeks ago," he said.
"It was a surprise for us to hear that, we don't expect to see them until July.
Mr Mirbach said humpback whales migrate annually between productive, cold water feeding grounds, and in July and August they can be seen moving north to warm tropical breeding and calving grounds.
Their first whale watching tours of the year went out on Saturday around the Palm Islands.
"We have a 95 per cent success rate of seeing whales there, and every time we see them it is pretty special," he said.
"At this point in the season they are working their way up from the Southern Ocean near Sydney and they can go up as far as PNG and the Solomon Islands."
"They do have quite a few migration routes, Migaloo the white whale will change his migratory path every year."
GBRMPA program co-ordinator Chris Jones said there was no official data collection on whales and he urged people to report sightings over the next three months.
"If you want data on this important protective species you have to go to Facebook and collect anecdotal evidence, but we are encouraging people to go to the 'Eye on the Reef' website and report it," Mr Jones said.
"At the moment we are seeing whales appearing all over the place, weeks earlier than has happened in past years, and we want to know if their patterns are changing.
"It is really the people out on the water who can tell us where and when they see whales."
The database records the location, the observer, date and time and GPS location. Go to www.gbrmpa.gov.au/sightings-network or download the `Eye On The Reef' App.