The Humpback Whale Migration Icon Project

What is the Icon Project?

The Humpback Whale Migration Icon Project assists and encourages coastal councils and their communities along the eastern and western seaboard of Australia to celebrate the annual humpback whale migration by "adopting" a known whale as their local icon. In doing so, an opportunity is created to raise awareness within the community of the threats facing these whales and generate action to protect them.

The project aims to establish a symbolic chain of coastal councils, each with an adopted whale as their icon that stretches along the entire eastern humpback whale migration route.

The Icon Project is a collaboration between:

  • Surfers for Cetaceans (Byron Bay)
  • The Oceania Project (Hervey Bay)
  • International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW Asia-Pacific, Sydney)

Australia's Humpback Whale Tourism Industry

Each year, Southern Ocean humpback whales embark upon a remarkable migration, spanning up to 10,000 kilometres of ocean. During the months of March and April, these whales depart from the icy cold feeding grounds of Antarctica and head north to the sub-tropical waters of Australia and the South Pacific Islands. These sheltered, warmer waters provide ideal birthing and breeding grounds for whales. In late July, the humpbacks begin their southward migration back to Antarctica. During this journey these gentle but playful giants readily exhibit acrobatic displays and tail fluking behaviour, providing the Oceania region with some of the best whale watching opportunities in the world. In Australia alone, the whale watching industry has been estimated to be worth $276 million a year to coastal communities. The humpback whale is the backbone of this industry up and down the east and west coast of Australia.

The Government of Japan is proposing to kill 50 humpback whales per year, and these are the same whales that support this thriving, multi-million dollar whale watching industry.

Adopting a Whale for Ballina

At the October 2007 meeting, Council resolved to join the Humpback Whale Migration Project and adopt a whale. Researchers at Southern Cross University were approached and they suggested whale BA04042 (pictured to the right), a whale with a known affinity for Ballina Shire that has been photographed on a number of occasions in local waters.

A shire-wide whale naming competition was conducted in local schools throughout November and was judged by the Mayor. Mikaela Blackmore from Xavier College was responsible for submitting Shelly, the winning name which connects her love of walking on Shelly Beach with the project. Cr Silver said " ... the name was bright and fresh, just like Ballina - and it has local significance..." Cr Silver presented Mikaela with a certificate on Monday 17 December 2007 to acknowledge her contribution to the project.

Council is partnering with The Surfrider Foundation Ballina - Lennox Head, to educate the community about the project.

Humpback Whale Facts (Megaptera Novaeangliae)

  • name comes from the humped area of blubber near their dorsal fin
  • mammal,  warm blooded; breathe air; and feed young on milk
  • slim head (rostrum), covered with knobs with a distinctive rounded protuberance near the tip of the lower jaw
  • barnacles often cover the rostrum and pectoral fins
  • humpbacks can grow up to 18m in length and can weigh up to 40 tonnes
  • calves are 4-5m in length and weigh up to 2 tonnes at birth
  • humpbacks have a cruising speed of 7km/h
  • their bodies are black on top and white underneath, while their flippers and underside of their tail flukes are usually white
  • individuals are identified by the unique pattern under their tail in a similar fashion to humans and their fingerprints
  • humpbacks display a wide variety of leaping, rolling and breaching movements which provide fascinating viewing for the whale watching industry
  • adult humpbacks have been seen to breach 20-30 times in 5 minutes
  • males "sing" long, complex "songs" during the breeding season
  • humpbacks are baleen whales - they don't have teeth, instead they feed by filtering krill between the baleen plates which hang from their top jaw
  • annual migration between Antarctica and sub-tropical coastal waters of Australia to give birth during winter and spring and can be seen off the coast of NSW between May - July, and September - November.

Participating Councils

By the start of December 2007, the Icon Project had a total of 50 Councils participating, which include the following:

NSW Councils

Whale name

Qld Councils

Whale Name

Fingal Head

Ghuri Jalgayn

Hervey Bay Nala
Byron Bay Yumbalehla Noosa Sunshine
Tin Can Bay Moon Dancer Maroochydore TBN
Richmond Valley Jumigum Caloundra Nelley
Ballina Shelly Gold Coast Gumay Julum
Coffs Harbour TBN Currumbin Wendy
South West Rocks Nanggu Guwiyn Yalanggur Surfers Paradise Moon Shark
Port Macquaire Magenta Mermaid Beach TBN
Port Stephens Panda Nobby Beach White Wings
Wyong Norah Burdekin TBN
Gosford Turo Coolum Hope
Great Lakes TBN Cowan Cowan Wedgewood
Clarence Valley TBN

VIC Councils

Whale Name

Sydney Venus Casey Sweetheart
Pittwater Kira

TAS Councils

Whale Name

Warringah Kira Marion Bay Serenity
Manly Gawura

WA Councils

Whale Name

Mosman Gamarada Rottnest Island TBN
Woollahra Bo-a-millie Albany TBN
Waverley Liberty Carnarvon TBN
Randwick TBN Bunbury TBN
Willoughby TBN Stirling TBN
Leichhardt TBN Exmouth TBN
Shoalhaven Muriyira North West Cape TBN
Eurobodalla TBN Busselton TBN
Narooma TBN    
Eden Jarnder    
Merimbula Jambo    

For more information on the project, go to


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