Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Rare whale birth off NSW north coast

A southern right whale has given birth off the far north coast of NSW for the first time in 13 years.

The calf, which is believed to be only about a day old, was spotted off Valla Beach by National Parks rangers on Monday morning.

"It's a pretty rare event in NSW waters," National Parks ranger and whale expert Geoff Ross said on Monday.

"It's the first one we know of in [more than] 12 years."

This year two unusually large southern rights were observed off the coast of Sydney and "undoubtedly one of them would have been the pregnant female", Mr Ross said.

"I'm glad I didn't know the female was a pregnant female or I would have felt like an expectant father," he said.

Southern rights usually give birth further south around the Great Australian Bight but it is not unheard of for them to calve off the NSW north coast with births even recorded in and around Sydney, Mr Ross said.

"What we might be seeing here is a re-exploration of those traditional calving grounds in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania," he said.

Mr Ross said rangers could tell the calf was a newborn because it was still creased from its position in the uterus.

"We can tell a newly born calf as they have creases on their tail which is folded when it's inside the uterus," Mr Ross said.

"This young calf looked all prune-like."

Mr Ross said the calf's birth is sign that whale conservation efforts in the area were having a positive impact on the population.

"It shows how safe they feel in those protected areas," he said.

"It's great to see that they are recovering after such a long period of slaughter."

Mr Ross said whale watchers may be able to spot the pair as they head south and the mother will try to keep her calf close to shore.

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