THE whale that heaved its 40-tonne frame out of waters off Port Stephens is among an estimated 7000 that have passed the Hunter's coast so far this season.
Imagine Cruises skipper Frank Future said the impressive humpback appeared just off Port Stephens during a choppy Tuesday afternoon.
"Imagine has now counted 740 humpback whales since we began this season in the middle of May," Mr Future said. "This means according to our estimates . . . that around 7000 whales have now passed Port Stephens heading north, with at least as many yet to come."
The count was a strong indication for the species, with 1995 estimates pegging their numbers closer to 1800.
Mr Future said the increased numbers had also been a boon for Port Stephens's economy. "Whale watching operators in Port Stephens are expected to take around 50,000 people out this year returning over $5 million to the port's tourism economy during the winter," he said.