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A welcome return to city's shores

A rare sighting of a blue whale off Sydney’s South Head on Thursday, September 20. Click for more photos

Blue whale rhapsody

The largest known animal ever to have lived on the earth, makes a rare visit to Sydney harbour. Photo: Jonas Liebschner, www.whalewatchingsydney.com.au

A GIANT blue whale was seen off Sydney yesterday, for the first time in four years.

The whale was spotted from Dover Heights in the afternoon, apparently migrating south along the coast.

"The blue whale is the largest known animal ever to have lived on the earth, which makes it absolutely amazing that we've seen one off Sydney," said a whale expert from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Geoff Ross.

"This is one of the very few confirmed sightings off Sydney. The last time one was seen off NSW was from Botany Bay in 2008.''

Blue whales were hunted almost to extinction before a whaling ban was enforced in 1966. A 2002 report estimated that numbers had recovered to more than 5000.

"Today's sighting may be an indication that like other large whale species the blue whale populations are starting to recover after nearly being wiped out by whaling," Mr Ross said.

Mr Ross said this year's whale migration off Australia's east coast has seen much more activity in and around populated areas than in recent years, which is likely to continue as the whales head back south with their calves.

"Our whales are proving more inquisitive this season. We've already seen at least three adult and juvenile whales in Sydney Harbour, and many more lingering in harbours, coves and estuaries along the coast.

"They're now on their way back to Antarctica, and the females travelling with calves are in teaching mode. Whales see and feel by listening; their world is one full of the sounds of the oceans. They are attracted to the interesting and strange noises of our busy bays and estuaries.

"They're also actively seeking out places that are free of predators such as killer whales, and seek safe havens within our ports and harbours."

Mr Ross said Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay, Jervis Bay and Eden were some of the more likely places people can expect to see mother and calf pairs of whales lingering on their long journey south.

"The more popular places for migrating females will be safe havens that also double as bountiful feeding grounds, as they teach their calves feeding behaviour before heading to Antarctica.

"Eden is a particularly popular spot. At this time of year, that section of coastline in the southernmost part of the state teems with schools of small fish, which whales are attracted to. The conditions there are idyllic for a female teaching her calf how to take their first steps as it were, in fending for themselves."

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