Southern Right Whales make waves for Centrex Metals’ Port Spencer proposal

On Friday afternoon, a southern right whale and calf paid a visit to Lipson Cove, north of Tumby Bay on Lower Eyre Peninsula. Mick McCallum was fishing for salmon at the time, and passed the news on to locals, Corey and Rochelle Berryman. The following morning, the Berrymans were delighted to discover not one but two Southern Right Whales cows, each with a calf swimming in Lipson Cove.

Two Southern Right Whales and calves inshore at Lipson Cove

Two Southern Right Whales with calves inshore at Lipson Cove, July 2013

The whales moved between the sheltered, sandy bays of Lipson Cove and Rogers Beach, playing, resting and exploring until Monday afternoon. The whales were seen blowing, rolling, tail lobbing, diving and the young calves were seen breaching. As the swell dropped in the Gulf, the whales moved on. At times the whales were seen to come as near as 10 metres to the shore, delighting spectators.

Southern Right Whale mother and calf in Lipson Cove

Southern Right Whale mother and calf in Lipson Cove, July 2013

Lipson Cove and Lipson Island Conservation Park have well-documented conservation values for their seabird rookeries, which support Little Penguins, Crested Terns, Black-Faced Cormorants and potentially Fairy Terns. The bays of Lipson Cove and Rogers Beach may also be emerging as an increasingly popular refuge for critically endangered Southern Right Whales. Rochelle Berryman has photographed previous Southern Right Whale visits in both 2011 and 2012. The photographs shown in this post are all from this week’s sightings.

Map of Lipson Cove, Lipson Island & Port Spencer Proposal

Map of Lipson Cove, Lipson Island Conservation Park and the Port Spencer Proposal

The proposed site of Centrex Metals’ Port Spencer lies between Rogers Beach and Lipson Cove, where the whales were first sighted on Friday. The construction of this facility if approved, will interrupt the whales’ passage between these two bays, and introduce shipping noise and new hazards to the area.

A key threat identified by the Federal environment department is the risk of vessels striking whales. Southern Right Whales sit low in the water, and can be fatally wounded if struck by ships’ propellers. The Cape-class vessels Port Spencer is designed to accommodate will be up to 290 metres long and 50 metres wide, and once loaded weigh up to 180,000 tonnes. Cape-size vessel propellers are typically 6-7 metres in diameter, and can slice a whale in two. This is not a hypothetical risk- it’s proving to be an serious, ongoing problem for other populations of Right Whales, particularly those in the northern hemisphere. Fortunately, some efforts are being made to reduce vessel collisions with cetaceans. Here in Australia we have an opportunity to plan to minimize harm by applying the Precautionary Principle.

In recognition of threats posed to Southern Right Whales, the Port Spencer project will require Federal approval in order to proceed. You can follow the project’s Federal approval process and download the relevant documentation here. Further opportunities for public comment are likely to arise.

Southern Right Whale calf lifts its tail at Rogers Beach

Southern Right Whale calf lifts its tail at Rogers Beach

Whale visitation to Spencer Gulf is under-reported, and little is known about the animals movements in this region. If you see a whale in South Australian waters, please call the SA Whale Centre on 1-900-WHALES or visit their website to report your sighting. You can read more about whale watching in South Australia in our previous post.

A group on Facebook called Save Lipson Cove is actively opposing the project for a combination of social and environmental reasons.

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Dan Monceaux is a South Australian documentary filmmaker and the director of Cuttlefish Country.

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