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Humpback whales are thriving off the eastern coast of Australia - with the population now at its highest level in decades after whaling ended in the 1960s.

Experts from the University of Queensland have counted between 25,000 and 26,000 whales this migration season - an incredible comeback from the dark days in the mid-1960s when only 200 whales were counted.

Associate Professor Michael Noad, of the university's Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory (CEAL), said: "It's amazing to think that we could technically say that the population has recovered, as it's back to what we thought it was, but it will shoot past that."

Speaking to 612 ABC Brisbane, he added: "We only have historical estimates, so we're not sure what the original population was, but as far as we can tell, our current population is set to move past it. At the moment the numbers are heading skywards with no sign of slowing down at all."

Humpback whales weigh 40 tonnes on average, and can grow to 50 ft long. The giant mammals were hunted along the Queensland coast until 1962 for their oil, and for use in the manufacture of various products including tennis rackets, medicine and animal feed.

Dr Noad said it was estimated that 700 to 800 whales a year were taken off Queensland - but that they were virtually wiped out by illegal Russian whalers who took around 24,000 humpbacks in waters south of Australia and New Zealand over the summers of 1961 and 1962.

Although welcoming the increase in numbers, Dr Noad predicts that the restored humpback population could increasingly come into conflict with humans.

"In the 1950s we could occasionally see tens of thousands of whales going up and down the east coast (but) people weren't using the waters as we do today," he told 612 ABC Brisbane. "I know there are already yachties concerned about running into whales and people who use the ocean."


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Whale and hearty: Humpback population thrives off east Australia
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