• A humpback whale swims in the East Alligator River in the Kakadu National Park(Northern Territory Government via AP) (Northern Territory Government)Source: Northern Territory Government
A rescue mission is underway for a humpback whale that has made its way to the East Alligator River in the Kakadu National Park.
Rae Johnston

16 Sep 2020 - 2:18 PM  UPDATED 21 Sep 2020 - 1:39 PM

Parks Australia staff and Traditional Owners are working with experts to ensure a humpback whale swimming in the East Alligator River in the Northern Territory has the best chance of getting back out to sea.

It is believed that humpback whales have never entered the river before, and since whales get around using sight and sound, the murky waters may be causing some confusion. 

Head of Country and Culture Section at Kakadu National Park, Feach Moyle, told NITV News that the whale continues to appear safe and well, which has given an emergency response team, assembled earlier this week, time to assess all the options, as well as the potential risks.

"These options range from minimal intervention to actively intervening to attempt supporting the animal to move out of the river," Mr Moyle told NITV News in a statement.

"The highest tide of the year will take place in a few weeks, so there is a window of opportunity for it be able to head out to sea. We are continuing to consult with experts and our experienced Park staff to ensure our plans are achievable and safe for both the whale and those involved in the operation.

"We are also looking at a range of options to map the riverbed to find the deepest channel through which the whale could travel to sea, and we are seeking advice from the staff who are most familiar with this river."

Three whales were first spotted in the East Alligator River by marine biologist Jason Fowler on September 2. Two of the trio have since made their way back out to sea.

"Park staff have today met with experts to discuss options to assist the whale if that becomes necessary, and to help us monitor the health of the whale and to manage the situation," a Parks Australia spokesperson told NITV News in a written statement.

NT government scientist Dr Carol Palmer is a member of the emergency response team and told NITV News the NT government is working closely with staff and Traditional Owners at Kakadu National Park.

Earlier in the week, Dr Palmer told the ABC that whale calls could help guide the whale back out to sea, while underwater noise pollution could discourage them from heading further up the river. Orca (killer whale) sounds have proven successful in similar situations.

To avoid adding further danger to the whales, a boat exclusion zone of 30 kilometres from the river mouth has been set up by the NT government and federal authorities. 

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