Hervey Bay for world-first whale capital
THE Fraser Coast favourite, the only place where ocean giants "stay and play" during their migration, has long been regarded as Australia's unofficial whale watching capital.
However, in recent years it has come under siege from rival operators, who now stretch the length of the east coast, each chasing a bigger slice of a global industry with an annual revenue of $2.9 billion (US$2B).
The Bay is fighting back, with the 2018 season (July to November) seeing passenger numbers of 59,835 - the highest in a decade.
It now has thrown its weight behind an application to the World Cetacean Alliance, the world's largest partnership working to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Cetacean is from the Latin word Cetus, meaning a marine mammal that lives entirely in the ocean.
The alliance, a partnership of more than 100 non-profit organisations in 40 countries, launched the Whale Heritage Site accreditation to highlight responsible watching areas that promote conservation of habitats through tourism, education and research.
Its honorary president is French environmentalist and educator Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of ocean explorer, the late Jacques Cousteau.
World Cetacean Alliance CEO, Dylan Walker, confirmed Hervey Bay was in the race to become the first Whale Heritage Site.
Mr Walker said other candidates included The Bluff-Durban in South Africa, a former whaling station turned tourist attraction, North Vancouver Island in Canada, New Zealand's Marlborough Sounds and US drawcard Nantucket Island, the former centre of the whaling world and home of the great literary work, Moby Dick.
Assisting Hervey Bay's bid is the city's coup in being named host of the World Whale Conference in October in partnership with the London-based alliance.
Fraser Coast Tourism and Events general manager Martin Simons said successful Whale Heritage Site recognition would complement the region's other great icon, World Heritage Listed K'gari Fraser Island, situated within the UNESCO-recognised Great Sandy Biosphere.
Mr Simons said the status would be a huge brand booster, particularly in Europe and the US, and had the potential to generate millions in extra tourism dollars in coming years.
He said the number of international tourists wanting to experience and learn more about nature at environmentally responsible destinations was on the rise.
"An additional 1000 overnight visitors on current trends delivers an additional $575,000 (annually) in direct tourism spend to the region, so the successful positioning of Hervey Bay as the whale capital of Australia is worth millions," Mr Simons said.
"Hervey Bay has always been a special place to view 40-tonne humpback whales. It was the first region in Australia to offer commercial whale watching experiences from boats, back in 1986,'' he said.
"The region's whale fleet (of 10 boats) has played a major part in protecting the whales' environment, working with scientists, conservation groups and the State Government. The fleet works under a strict code of practice, which is one of the most stringent in the world in terms of whale protection.''
Mr Simons said passenger numbers for the whale watching season peaked at 83,121 in 1996, before other destinations along the Australian coast became serious competition.
However, 2018 had produced the most visitors in 10 years and the future would be greatly enhanced by the global recognition.
Backing the bid are renowned whale experts, Drs Wally and Trish Franklin, who have being studying humpbacks in the area for 30 years.
They established The Oceania Project in 1988 as a not-for-profit research and education organisation dedicated to raising awareness about whales, dolphins and the ocean environment.
Dr Wally Franklin said there were numerous locations for whale watching along the east coast of Australia, but only the Bay offered such an intimate experience between the majestic mammals and visitors.
"Other locations are in the coastal migratory corridor where whales are travelling north or south, and generally do not stop to interact with vessels.
"Hervey Bay is a stopover with whales spending on average two weeks in the Bay," he said.
"Trish and I believe it would be a valuable global marketing opportunity to the Hervey Bay whale watch fleet if the site won the world accreditation,'' he said.
"Our scientific research substantiates that the bay is a globally-unique location for humpback whale watching.''
In preparing for the World Whale Conference, Fraser Coast Tourism and Events also is working with partners to develop a signature art project to reinforce the region as special humpback place.
The region celebrates the whales' migration with an annual festival. Part spiritual and part celebration, it starts with the blessing of the fleet in July, then in August features a community paddle-out followed by an annual whale concert and illumination parade.
There also is a program in schools with the "Junior Whale Whisperer", dispensing humpback facts and enlightening the next generation about the importance of the amazing creatures.
The result of Hervey Bay's bid for Whale Heritage Site recognition is expected later in the year.