NSW gears up for humpback migration with expanded disentanglement team

With the first humpback whales of the season sighted off Sydney this week, an expanded team of specialised rescuers are poised and ready to launch as tens of thousands of majestic humpback whales begin their annual migration along the NSW coastline.

Aerial photograph of a calm blue-green ocean showing a small inflatable boat with a buoyed rope leading from the boat to a small humpback whale and encircling them

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Large Whale Disentanglement team boasts 45 professionals, including a new team of 11 people based out of the Hunter Central Coast branch who have recently completed their training, ensuring better state-wide coverage for whale rescue operations this migration season.

Each year, humpback whales undertake one of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom, travelling up to 10,000 km from the Southern Ocean to breeding grounds in warmer climates.

As they travel through inshore Australian waters, humpback whales are susceptible to becoming entangled in fishing gear and other marine debris which can lead to fatigue, injury, and death.

In 2023, 13 humpback whales were successfully freed from entanglements off the NSW coastline.

If conditions allow, the NPWS team will launch small inflatable boats, along with a larger support vessel, to approach an entangled animal and assess the entanglement, the animal’s condition, speed and behaviour. They then plan a release strategy to cut the animal free, which sometimes involves slowing the animal down by temporarily attaching large buoys.

Disentanglement rescues can sometimes take multiple days of tracking before a successful intervention can be made. The NPWS crew work with partner organisations including Marine Rescue, ORRCA and Sea World to optimise state-wide coverage for whale rescue operations.

The Large Whale Disentanglement team is one component of a broader project to understand and minimise the risk of humpback whale entanglements. The NSW Government is working with the fishing industry to develop whale- and dolphin-friendly equipment less likely to lead to entanglements, while scientific research continues to better understand the drivers of whale migration and entanglement risks.

People enjoying our coasts and waters are encouraged to enjoy the spectacle of the humpback whale migration but are reminded to stay at a safe distance and avoid interfering with the animals.

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