(CNN) — Nearly 5,000 humpback whales have been spotted in Australian waters during a record annual migration census, a conservation group said, with one curious cetacean seen following a kayaker just off Sydney’s famed Bondi beach.
Each year, experts and members of the public head to the coast of New South Wales to conduct an annual count and Sunday’s census resulted in a highest ever 4,792 whales, adding to a rare “megapod” sighting in 2021 that previously enthralled whale watchers.
Many of the whales were spotted just yards from the shoreline, according to Steve Trikoulis, vice president of the Organization for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans (ORRCA) .
“They were traveling to Queensland and Hervey Bay to make babies,” he told CNN. “It was exciting for people (on shore) to see them… jumping around.”
Better weather and cleaner water were just some factors that contributed to the rise in the number of whales this year, he added.
“The numbers are healthy and have definitely increased,” Trikoulis said. “We’ve never seen so many of them so early in the season and we strongly believe it’s because of the better weather. We’ve also seen them swimming more closer to shore.”
Humpback whales are known to swim great distances every year and have one of the longest migrations of any mammal.
Their annual round-trip journey between June and early September covers up to 6,214 miles (10,000 kilometers).
Starting in Antarctica, they swim in large groups to Australia – arriving in the northeastern state of Queensland. The area is one of the country’s most popular spots for whale watching.
Humpback whales spend their summers feeding in sub-tropical waters, where they also mate and give birth, according to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.
A rare “megapod” of more than 100 whales was spotted in September 2021 in waters off the town of Bermagui, about 236 miles (380 kilometers) from Sydney.
Humpback meets kayak
One kayaker had a particularly close-up view in an encounter that was captured by a drone.
In the stunning footage, an enormous humpback follows a white kayak in turquoise clear waters off Bondi beach.
“Whales are always a treat as they cruise up the coast during migration season,” said Jason Iggleden, the drone pilot.
Iggleden often films other marine creatures like sharks and seals off Australia’s coasts – uploading footage to his Drone Shark app, which provides real-time images of beaches and vital information for surfers.
“There’s a wondrous world in the deep blue and I have had the ability to share it with audiences.” he told CNN. “Human and sea life interactions are always so fascinating and it’s a reminder to all of us to appreciate, respect and coexist with our oceans.”
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