Sea Shepherd Perth Group Opens Augusta Whale Watching Season
June 6, 2008
Sea Shepherd's invitation to the opening of the Augusta whale watching season recognises the group's outstanding conservation efforts in the Southern Ocean.
Looking out across Flinders Bay, you can't help but marvel at the beauty of the West Australian coast. It's a place where river meets sea, the Southern and Indian Oceans' collide and the meeting place for over 5,000 whales that stop by on their northern and southern migration to play, mate and give birth. The town is Augusta, just 3 ½ hours south-west of Perth; in the region renowned for its natural beauty, forests, wine and surf.
As the sun rose on Friday 6th June 2008, so began the celebration of nature at its best. The start of the whale watching season was a triumph for those whales that survived the harpoons but a time to reflect on the Piked (Minke) whales that didn't.
With clear skies and a slight breeze, it was on this day that the Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association (AMRTA) chose to launch the town's whale watching season. Attended by key community leaders, local business people, media and Sea Shepherd members, the event heralded the official start to the region's six month whale watching season.
Clif Edwards, Chairman of the AMRTA, welcomed all in attendance. He warmly introduced Sea Shepherd's Perth Coordinator Jeff Hansen and thanked the organisation for bringing the whales safely back to Flinders Bay.
Explaining the context and success of Operation Migaloo, Jeff presented Sea Shepherd's passion for the conservation of all whales and detailed how on its own, the Steve Irwin and crew succeeded against a whaling fleet of eight. Jeff also conducted media interviews with ABC Radio's Morning Show and News, regional television station GWN as well as local print media who were all eager to learn more about Sea Shepherd's conservation work.
From Left: James (SS), Steve Mitchell
(Naturaliste Charters), Jeff Hansen (SS),
Valerie Vallee, (AMRTA), Jess & Marina (SS)
"We were absolutely thrilled to be invited to take part in this event. It's recognition of our efforts over the summer which saw 484 whales saved from Japan's illegal whaling operations in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary," said Jeff. "We look forward to coming back every year to celebrate the arrival of these majestic marine mammals."
Next to the podium was Steve Mitchell from Naturaliste Charters, who has previously attended International Whaling Commission meetings on behalf of the Australian whale watching industry. Steve spoke how the location of Flinders Bay and its unique marine landscape provides sensational whale watching, and stated had it not been for Sea Shepherd's conservation efforts, Australia's AU$350 million whale watching industry would be in serious trouble. The fear of being harpooned by a whaling ship would no doubt scare these intelligence creatures away from any vessel.
Following the launch, guests took to the water being treated to a very special whale watching tour on board the Cetacean Explorer, courtesy of Naturaliste Charters. Augusta's protected Flinders Bay provides the perfect retreat for Humpback, Southern Right and Piked whales eager to breed and calf in the warmer waters, after a summer feeding on krill in Antarctica.
The first cruise of the season was nothing short of spectacular with a dozen magnificent humpback whales in the bay, many of whom showed what whales do best - putting on a spectacular display of breaching and fin/tail slapping. Raising awareness around their conservation values was done simply by the whales themselves; the crowd just couldn't get enough!
In between whale spotting, Steve Mitchell invited Jeff to the microphone to talk first hand about Operation Migaloo and Sea Shepherd's other marine conservation campaigns.
Emotions ran high with some on board moved to tears. For Sea Shepherd volunteer Jess it was her first experience up close to the whales she has tirelessly fought to save. Jess and husband James have volunteered hundreds of hours for the Perth chapter, educating the public and raising much needed funds for the organisation.
As the boat headed back to shore, the thrills and spills were not over. As if the day couldn't be topped, the boat was then greeted by a party of dolphins at the mouth of the Blackwood River. The dolphins took delight in riding the bow with speed, grace and some amazing acrobatics.
Sea Shepherd would like to specially thank Valerie Vallee from the AMRTA for showing Sea Shepherd volunteers James, Jess, Marina and Jeff such wonderful hospitality and inviting the group to be part of an unforgettable experience.
As a mark of respect for the species that gives so much to the people of Augusta, locals will be marking the inaugural National Whale Day, Saturday 14th June 2008, with a silent protest against whaling at the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. 551 black crosses will be placed in the lighthouse grounds - one for every Piked whale killed by the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary during the 2007-2008 whaling season.
Finally, in celebration of the start of the whale watching season in Augusta, the AMRTA is holding a ‘Spot the Whale' competition. The winner will receive an Augusta whale watching weekend for two adults and two children, which includes two nights' accommodation, whale watching with Naturaliste Charters, free passes to the Leeuwin Lighthouse and three local caves. To enter go to www.margaretriver.com.
So go, get out there and enjoy in the splendor that an experience of whale watching brings!
Written by Marina, Ground Crew Support Volunteer
These shots were taken by James, SS
Photos Courtesy of Peter Simpson, Naturaliste Charters