24 May 2005

Whale muster mystefies Aussies

At first there were about a dozen. Then, the numbers of sperm whales congregating at a point on Australia's south coast midway between Sydney and Melbourne grew to more than 100.

The speculation is that these leviathans are breaking their annual journey south to take advantage of unusually warm waters rich in squid, their favourite food. But no one really knows.

Karen Evans, a marine ecologist, told The Sydney Morning Herald that expert opinion was divided on whether sperm whales regularly got together for such big offshore jamborees.

"It all depends on whether there is food to sustain them," the University of Tasmania academic said. "In Australian waters we have no idea what there numbers are."

Sperm whales, like humpbacks, may be rising in number. The current convention between Pambula and Green Cape may reflect that.

Before commercial whaling was outlawed in the 1960s, the humpback whale was nearly extinct. Only 200 were left in the world. But over a seven-week period last year over 1 600 were spotted from North Stradbroke Island, off the Queensland coast near Brisbane.

University of Brisbane researchers reckon the local herd is back up to 3 500 and growing at a rate of 10 per cent a year. Perhaps sperm whales are making a big comeback too.

Source: www.news24.com


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