It’s quite rare to spot a critically endangered southern right whale in southeastern Australia. Rarer still is to find the mammal swimming next to you in a lake. But that’s exactly what happed to visitors at Lake Wallis in New South Wales (NSW) on Tuesday morning.
A seemingly lost southern right whale entered Lake Wallis at Forster-Tuncurry on the NSW Mid North Coast around 7:30 a.m. on June 29. As the news of the 500-feet-long whale entering shallow waters spread, hundreds of local and tourists thronged the lake to catch a glimpse of the mammal.
Among them was photographer Shane Chalker, who managed to capture some great footage (including the photograph above) of the whale with his drone. Getting new images and videos, however, may not be possible since a special protection order cordoning off the area has come into effect starting Wednesday morning.
Drone exclusion zone set up to protect whale
The order, passed by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), prohibits anyone from approaching within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of the endangered southern right whale. This applies to all forms of transport including boats, aircraft, drones, as well as swimmers.
Additionally, people have been asked to stop congregating on a bridge over the Coolongolook River, which the whale must pass under in order to return to the ocean.
This is the first time an order of this kind has been passed and fines will apply, the NPWS assures.
The order is important because the southeastern Australian population of the southern right whale is highly endangered, with only 270 individuals left. Of these, only 68 are breeding females.
Endangered whale in Lake Wallis might be pregnant
Meanwhile, the whale found in Lake Wallis might be one of those breeding females. Susan Crocetti, a marine wildlife team leader with the NPWS, has told local news outlets that the whale in Lake Wallis appears to be pregnant:
She’s currently sort of milling around just on the other side of the bridge. We’re not quite sure whether she’s a bit spooked by the bridge and she’s not feeling up to going back under the bridge or whether she’s kind of milling around ready to give birth.
In any case, it is highly unusual for southern right whales to be spotted this far north of NSW. As few as 25 to 30 southern right whales enter NSW waters every year.
Let’s watch the video now…
Update: July 2, 2021: The whale headed back out to sea in the afternoon, after spending three days at Lake Wallis.
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