Whale season will support economic recovery on the south coast

Whales return: A mother and calf pair breach just off Frenchman's Rock during the 2019 whale season. Photo: Rob Hartill.
Whales return: A mother and calf pair breach just off Frenchman's Rock during the 2019 whale season. Photo: Rob Hartill.

Whale season got off to an early start this year, with two humpbacks sighted just off Encounter Bay on the evening of May 5.

Anticipation is slowly building, with two more whales spotted off Cape Jervis on Tuesday, May 26.

Whale season runs from May to October each year and visitors and tourists who make their way to the south coast in order to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures, are set to play a key role in efforts to revive the local economy, following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Estimates from the South Australian Whale Centre suggest over 400,000 whale watchers visit the Fleurieu Peninsula each and every year, contributing a whopping $26 million to the local visitor economy.

This is great news for local businesses including eateries and accommodation parks which have suffered a recent downturn in trade.

The Fleurieu's three mayors recently welcomed visitors back to the region as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease and with whale season having now started, they'll soon be coming in their droves.

SA Whale Centre coordinator Ben Boothby said the local economy would see a big boost.

"Since outdoor pursuits are being highly suggested as healthy, safe activities for us all to be undertaking right now, whale watching fits in perfectly for that," Mr Boothby said.

"We can all still respect the social distancing rules and be 1.5 metres apart from each other and still have an amazing whale watching experience.

"In some local areas, petrol prices have dropped below ninety cents per litre which is as low as I've seen for a long while, what better reason to take the family on a road trip [or] holiday?

"Southern Right whales have started to appear on the Eyre Peninsula and soon they will arrive along the Encounter Bay coastline. There are so many places to see and enjoy them, from Ceduna, to Flowers Bay, Sleaford Bay near Port Lincoln and our local area obviously."

Whale seasons generally vary from year to year, so it is difficult to predict exactly how many whales or calves will call the Fleurieu home in 2020.

Last season, there was a drop in Southern Right whales when compared to the previous two years, where there were up to eight cow and calf pairs within the nursery areas of Encounter Bay.

"Each whale season we can expect to consistently see Humpback whales, Southern Right whales and dolphins, however we also have random sightings of Sperm whales, Minke whales, Pygmy Right whales and Killer whales or Orca," Mr Boothby said.

"We never know from year to year what numbers will arrive during the whale season or how many mother and calf pairs we may get."

The SA Whale Centre will reopen on June 5, having recently undergone renovations and has introduced a new virtual reality marine experience.

"The South Australian Whale Centre has a whale sighting Log on our website with all of the updated sightings listed, also we keep everyone up to date on our Facebook page and you can join our mailing list (currently over 5000 people) and we will sent out a communication for each whale sighting we have," Mr Boothby said.

Boating restrictions are now in place in the Victor Harbor Restriction Area and the Encounter Bay Restricted Area, with boaties required to remain 300 metres from whales.

These restrictions serve to protect migrating Southern Right whales who travel to the Fleurieu Peninsula and Great Australian Bight to calve.

For more information and resources on whale season, visit: sawhalecentre.com.au or call: 08 8551 0750