Nala - Hervey Bay's Adopted Whale

Each year we have thousands of humpbacks visit the bay for rest and play, many of them known to the local operators and crew.

'Nala' is Hervey Bay's own icon whale, adopted through the
Humpback Icon Project (HIP)which sees about 60 whales adopted by regional councils around Australia. She is a well known mother and a regular visitor to the bay.

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The HIP helps coastal councils and their communities along the eastern and western seaboard of Australia to celebrate the annual humpback whale migration by 'adopting' a known named or unnamed whale as their local whale icon.

The list of adopted whales is growing rapidly sending a powerful message to those that want to kill the whales.  There is no doubt that in Australia there is strong and widespread support for action to protect the whales from this inhumane, unnecessary and unlawful activity.

Why Protect Nala?

This year Hervey Bay will again celebrate the return of Nala and the eastern Australian Humpback whales during the ‘Celebration of the Return of the Whales’ and the ‘Hervey Bay Whale Festival’.

So why should we protect and celebrate Nala’s return?

We can best answer this question from the long-term research on Humpback whales in Hervey Bay being undertaken by Trish and Wally Franklin of The Oceania Project. Since 1989 they have spent ten weeks each year studying the social behaviour and social organisation of Humpback whales in Hervey Bay. Their method of research is based on observation, photography, filming and recording their songs. They can now recognise 2287 individual Humpback whales and they have compiled long-term life histories, ranging from 2 to 20 years, of 480 known individual Humpback whales. One of these whales is Nala.

So what can we learn about Nala from their research?  Their first meeting was in 1992, when they filmed Nala feeding her new calf Panther, in what is called the ‘fluke-up’ feeding position. This encounter was featured in the Channel 7 documentary Angels of the Sea.  Since then they have photographed and observed Nala on forty-nine occasions in ten different years between 1992 and 2009. In all but one year –1997 – she had a calf in tow.  On 38 of the sightings Nala was alone with her calf, involved in feeding and nurturing. Otherwise she and her calf were mixing with other mothers and calves and/or accompanied by an Escort. The full sighting history of Nala and her calves provides a fascinating insight into the importance of Hervey Bay as a habitat for humpback whales retuning to the bay.

An aspect of Trish and Wally’s research of Humpback whales is called mnemonic naming. When known individual whales are sighted over more than one whale-watching season they are given a name. This aids Trish and Wally and the Whale Watch Fleet, in remembering and recognising individual Humpback whales. The names given arise from many different circumstances, for example, one of the Hervey Bay Whale Watch Captains, and his passengers, named a female Humpback whale Phantom because of her distinctive body marks.  In Nala’s case Trish invited a group of high school students, to suggest a name for an active calf and its mother. They decided the calf was like a character out of the Lion King so they called it Simba, and its mother Nala. It became a tradition to name Nala’s calves after characters from the Lion King.

The eastern Australian humpback whales were taken to the brink of extinction during the last period of commercial whaling.  Their population crashed from 45,000 to only 100 individual whales surviving by 1962.   Nala is descended from one of those 100 survivors. It took from 1964 to 1989 for the Humpback whales to recover to 2000 in number. Between 1989 and 2009 their numbers have increased to around 10,000, less than a quarter of their original population.

 It will take another 50 years to recover to their pre-whaling numbers. Trish and Wally have shown that Nala, and many other mothers are using Hervey Bay as an important habitat for their calves and contributing to the recovery of the Humpbacks.

Hervey Bay's Own Humpbacks at Risk

Humpback whale calves are born along the Queensland coast. So in a very real way Australia is the home to the eastern Australian Humpback whales.  They migrate annually to Antarctica to feed. In March 1997 Nala was photographed in Antarctica, and shot with a biopsy dart, by the Japanese ‘lethal’ scientific whaling expedition.  Fortunately she was sighted and photographed in Hervey Bay by Trish Franklin, in August 1997.  Thus any form of whaling in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary is a threat to Nala, her calves and all eastern Australian Humpback whales.

When Nala returns to Hervey Bay with her a new calf, to the delight of thousands of whale watch visitors, she is in a real sense returning home.

Therefore the Hervey Bay Community has good cause to protect Nala and her calves, as well as the Hervey Bay habitat that is so important to supporting the full recovery of the eastern Australian Humpback whales.

THE OCEANIA PROJECT *Thanks to Trish and Wally Franklin from the Oceania Project for photos and information on Nala. Visit www.oceania.org.au for more information on Nala, Hervey Bay's icon whale.