The commercial whale watch operators of Hervey Bay can look back with pride over their first seven seasons. To establish a recognized tourist destination of world class, often faced with severe criticism from "expert" corners, has not always been easy. Headlines like: "Leave whales alone", or "Beaching causes concern" and "Whale watchers at. war" were just a few, the industry could have done without.
Some research groups came to the Bay with plenty of advice, but little knowledge.
When the then Minister of Environment announced, that Hervey Bay was to become the first state marine park, it send shock-waves through the industry. The operators were outraged on one hand, totally bewildered on the other. What was so wrong in what they were doing? They tried to earn an honest dollar by showing people Humpback whales. An added income, that assisted the whole community and brought enjoyment to every passenger they carried. A far cry from the massive slaughter `of a few decades ago.
How would the introduction of a marine park affect their livelihood?
Permits to be offered by tender or auction to the highest bidder, levy for passengers, regulations with heavy fines or having the permit revoked, surveillance from patrol vessels, aircraft and undercover officers started to look like a total government takeover.
Now the dust has settled, everyone will admit, that something good has emerged. In all honesty it can be said that the Humpback whales enjoy a carefree and protected
stay in the Bay. The number of commercial operators is restricted for at least the near future and the industry has received welcome positive publicity.
It is perhaps some what disappointing, that there are still a few small groups, who do not endorse commercial whale watching as a responsible participant of an overall concept, which includes economic values to a whole region, as well as being educational, recreational and able to contribute significantly to scientific research and conservation by creating environmental awareness. The composition of the fleet appears to satisfy the demand, with a choice of half-day trips on fast vessels or full-day tours.