Coal industry jeopardizing humpback whales in Australia

Humpback whales may be the main victims of Australia’s thriving coal industry, according to a study published on the May issue of the Marine Ecology Progress Series journal.

The article says there is an increasing number of humpback whales – about 10% more each year – breeding just off the Queensland port areas.

The authors identify a likely breeding and calving ground off Mackay and a possible migration route off Gladstone that are under threat. Both ports are among at least seven on the Queensland coast scheduled for expansion.

“There is likely to be a greater reliance on the coastal waters of Mackay and Gladstone as the season progresses, and mothers with newborn calves utilize these areas more,” Smith said in the journal’s article.

It adds the increase in shipping could lead to an increase in ship strikes on whales and have “a serious impact” on the species.

Mackay’s waters are of particular concern because they coincide with a major designated shipping area within the Great Barrier Reef. This winter’s east Australian humpback whale population reaches about 17,000.

In Gladstone, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is currently deciding whether development in this area would threaten the reef’s World Heritage status.

(Photo: Humpback Whale underwater from Wikipedia)