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Hervey Bay Whale Heritage Area
Hervey Bay

Hervey Bay Whale Heritage Area


Visitor centres or museums
Visitor centres or museums
Boat-based wildlife tours
Celebratory events or festivals
Visual or performance art


Hervey Bay is situated in Queensland, north of the State capital of Brisbane. The area is defined by the existing Great Sandy Marine Park boundary, which was awarded Biosphere Reserve status by UNESCO in 2009. The site also encompasses the mainland township of Hervey Bay in the south to Bundaberg in the north and the sheltered western coastline of World Heritage-listed K’gari (formerly known as Fraser Island).

This area is recognised worldwide for its unique environment, where the tidal lands and marine waters form a transition zone between tropical and temperate waters, influencing marine habitats, communities and wildlife.

It’s also renowned for viewing Southern humpback whales, with the population on the rise and recovering after a history of whaling. Increasing numbers of humpback whales (currently more than 8000) take the “stopover route”, resting and socialising in the waters between K’gari and the mainland from July to November each year on their southern migration, back to the cooler waters of Antarctica. At the beginning of the season, adult individuals are likely to be seen, while mothers and their calves arrive towards the end, using the area as a ‘whale nursery’. Hervey Bay is one of the few places in the world where multiple mothers and calves join together.

The Hervey Bay community has embraced these whales, and the pride and sense of connection that local residents and businesses feel with regard to whales is clear to see throughout the town.

At the World Whale Conference, held in October 2019, Hervey Bay was accredited as the World’s first Whale Heritage Area and crowned the Whale Watch Capital of the World.


Whale Heritage Area recognition would enhance the region’s significance as a global beacon for cetacean and environmental protection, adding to the current status of World Heritage-listing, UNESCO Biosphere recognition and gazetted Marine Park. The listing would further emphasise the importance of this region’s ecological system, which is already comparable to Uluru, the Galapagos Islands, the Central Amazon and the Everglades.

Whale Heritage Area accreditation would enable the Fraser Coast region to further cement its growing reputation at the pinnacle of whale watching in Australia and as a leader in sustainable and responsible tourism. This is especially important at a time when whale watching is being promoted up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia, in areas where regulatory bodies have little influence and anecdotal evidence suggests that practices may be less responsible. Success in achieving this status will attract visitors interested in wildlife conservation and strengthen the area’s community traditions and economic sustainability.

Boundary Map

Species or habitats

More than 20,000 humpback whales migrate through this area each year between July to November, with more than 8,000 of them using the calm waters of Hervey Bay to rest and nurse their new-born calves as they make their return trip to Antarctica.

The area also hosts various other cetaceans, including the endangered Australian humpback dolphin, bottlenose dolphins, minke whales, false killer whales and increased sightings of Southern right whales.

Gallery images: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 10.Fraser Coast Tourism & Events, 8.Clive Martin, 9.Liz Carter.

Area Features

Humpback whales, Australian humpback dolphin, bottlenose dolphins, minke whales, and Southern right whales. - Species


Humpback whale: Increasing

Australian humpback dolphin: Unknown

Common bottlenose dolphin: Increasing

Minke whale: Increasing

Southern right whale: Increasing


The main threats to whales in Hervey Bay are climate change, increasing recreational boats and vessel strikes.

World’s temperature profile is on a trajectory towards an increase in global temperatures of 1.5°C in 11 years and to 2°C in 32 years. This profile has been acknowledged by CSIRO Scientist & the Queensland Government.

Temperature rises of this magnitude will have impacts on humpback whale breeding, feeding, and migratory patterns. Hervey Bay Whale Watch operators anecdotally considered that the early end to the humpback whale migration through Hervey Bay in 2020 and 2021 may be temperature-related. Some local scientists also support this view. Sea temperature rises will also impact environmental conditions in Hervey Bay.

Actions taken for protection

The Whale Heritage Area has the highest level of environmental and conservation protection at a local, state, national and international level. The area is bordered by World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, is part of a UNESCO Biosphere and is within the Great Sandy Marine Park, meaning significant regulations apply to recreational and commercial operators within the area.

Current regulations for commercial operations include approach distances for vessels, aircraft and persons around cetaceans, behaviour around cetaceans, extensive triggers and assessment processes for infrastructure development, marine activities, events, research, sustainable capacities and permit approvals.

The number of permits for commercial tours and research vessels has reduced over the years, and the number of whale watch vessels able to access the Marine Park is now capped to further protect the whales and dolphins of Hervey Bay.

The Special Management Declaration framework within the State legislation gives marine mammal’s additional protection when it is required and provides a flexible and streamlined management tool for responding quickly to situations where marine mammals are under threat. This includes exclusion zones and specified behaviour.

Community Importance

The humpback whales within the Hervey Bay region provide a positive impact on the livelihoods and incomes to the Fraser Coast community in several ways, including through events, commercial whale watching, research and publicity surrounding their significance.

Tourism on the Fraser Coast is a significant industry, and over the last thirty-years the Hervey Bay whale watching industry made significant contributions to the economic, social, and sustainable livelihoods of the community and attracted large numbers of International, National and State visitors to Queensland and the Wide Bay Region. Research undertaken into the economic value of whale watching to the Fraser Coast region (IFAW, 2011), estimated that the value of each humpback whale to Hervey Bay was AUD$97,000. This figure will have increased since the report.

Relationships between the region and research organisations such as The Oceania Project and Pacific Whale Foundation, plus the continuous opportunities for universities and schools conducting their own research aboard commercial vessels contributes greatly to the reputation and economy of the area.

Wildlife Watching Guidelines

The responsible whale watching industry is managed through a combination of whale watching guidelines, a permit system, in-depth training, and compliance enforcement.

All vessels must operate under the designated Code of Practice, developed by whale watch operators and scientists in conjunction with National Parks and Wildlife (now Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service) and formally adopted by Government legislation.

The Code of Practice, first developed in Hervey Bay in 1989, has since been used as the basis of national and world-wide regulation governing whale watching activities. Full details of the Code of Practice are available at

Key components of the code are:

Approach distances for whales and dolphins apply to boats, prohibited vessels (including jet skis and hovercraft), aircraft (including helicopters) and people who are in the water. Approach distances are divided into caution zones and no approach zones.

1) Caution zones:

Area surrounding a whale or dolphin in which boats cannot travel at speeds of more than 6 knots or speeds that create a wake. The caution zone extends out 300m from a whale, and 150m for a dolphin.

2) No approach zones:

Within a caution zone there are areas designated as No Approach zones that boats cannot enter. These are the areas closest to an animal and directly in front of and behind an animal. For a whale, the no approach zone surrounds the animal for 100m and extends 300m in front of and behind the animal. For dolphins, the no approach zone surrounds the animal for 50m and extends 150m in front of and behind the animal.

Fact 1

Hervey Bay became the world’s first certified Whale Heritage Area in October, 2019.

Fact 2

Migaloo, the famous white humpback whale, has been sighted a number of times in Hervey Bay in past seasons.

Fact 3

Special Management Declarations can be made when Migaloo is in the area. Boats and prohibited vessels cannot approach within 500m of a predominantly white whale and aircraft cannot fly within 610m. This applies to all whales that are more than 90% white.


1. Cultural Importance Of Wildlife

Cetacean species within the Whale Heritage Area are of exceptional cultural importance and key features of the local community's identity.

1.1 Cultural heritage links people to cetaceans demonstrating an understanding and on-going respect for cetaceans and habitats.

1.2 The presentation and interpretation of cultural heritage that is linked to cetaceans is respectful and sensitive to those living and working in the Whale Heritage Area.

1.3 Efforts are in place to continually revive, reimagine, and enhance cultural heritage linking people to cetaceans.

1.4 The community regularly monitors the impact of cultural heritage linked to cetaceans and takes action to strengthen that impact based on the latest evidence.


2. Respectful Human-Wildlife Coexistence

The community working to protect the Whale Heritage Area has developed a responsible framework to manage the relationship between people and cetaceans.

2.1 The community works collaboratively to ensure cetaceans are protected through research, nature conservation, regenerating biodiversity, and safeguarding individual animals from harm.

2.2 The community raises awareness about the protection of cetaceans, including ways for everybody to help contribute to solutions.

2.3 The community influences the protection of cetaceans through strategies that are based on practical, scientific, or traditional knowledge.

2.4 The community recognises that there may be differences in opinion, interests or values related to the protection of cetaceans, and meets this challenge through continual dialogue, collaboration, and mediation where necessary.

2.5 The community supports and implements sustainability and environmental initiatives that have a positive impact on cetaceans and the marine environment.

2.6 The community regularly monitors the health and protection of cetacean populations and adopts strategies based on the latest evidence.


3. Responsible Wildlife Tourism

The community providing cetacean tourism experiences within the Whale Heritage Area uses collaborative management and ongoing research to put the needs of cetaceans before commercial interests.

3.1 The community has strategies in place to identify and raise awareness about exploitative, extractive, or consumptive captive or wild cetacean tourism attractions.

3.2 The community promotes responsible wild whale and dolphin watching experiences.

3.3 Responsible whale and dolphin watching guidelines are adopted within the Whale Heritage Area and regularly updated to follow expert or science-based best practice. These guidelines conform to international, national, or local legislation where it exists.

3.4 Efforts are made to enforce responsible whale and dolphin watching guidelines and international, national, or local legislation where it exists.

3.5 Tourism and the behaviour of tourists are well managed to reduce negative impacts on cetaceans and habitats.

3.6 The community plays a key role in designing and operating responsible whale and dolphin watching experiences, which provide direct social and economic benefits.

3.7 The community monitors the impacts of tourism on targeted species and habitats and regularly acts to reduce those impacts based on the latest evidence.


4. Steering Committee

The Whale Heritage Area is guided by an active steering committee that represents the community.

4.1 The steering committee is an elected body that seeks to be inclusive and representative of all stakeholders.

4.2 The steering committee makes substantial efforts to engage the wider community, including those not traditionally associated with cetaceans or conservation.

Management Plan

Number of people engaged in the Wildlife Heritage Area project 8
Number of individuals, organisations, and businesses working together 80-100
Number of people employed in wildlife-related activities 160-200
Estimated economic contribution to the local economy $108 million per year

Management Plan File


Hervey Bay Whale Heritage Area
Name Location
Hervey Bay
Name Species Group
Approximate size (sq km)
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