It’s that time of year, when the humpback migration has us all rushing for our cameras and binoculars. There are some great tours to take you close to the action – but when you meet a whale, remember you might have more in common than you think.
As the black-and-white leviathan circles the boat, bobbing up occasionally to stare at me with soulful eyes, I find it hard to believe that when it comes to biology this giant sea creature has more in common with me than with the barramundi I’d scoffed for dinner the night before.
We’re humpback whale watching on Queensland’s Fraser Coast and, quite frankly, I’m hooked!
Early August signals the official start to the whale watching season and it runs until the end of October. Right now, we’re getting a preview and I’m in the thick of things aboard the Quick Cat II with skipper Brian Perry.
Brian Perry and his wife Jill pioneered whale watching in Hervey Bay and, some 24 years later, after teaming up with Fraser Island eco-resort Kingfisher Bay, Hervey Bay Whale Watch still runs whale trips direct from the island to Platypus Bay, where I’m told the whales like to wallow.
Steaming north past Yathlon, a sand dune that looks strangely like a whale tail, Brian draws comparisons between these sea giants and my good self.
Apparently their body stays at a constant temperature, much like humans; at some stage of their life they have some hair on their bodies; it’s believed they have a similar bone structure and life span to us and the female of the species can’t hold a tune, which I reluctantly admit sounds all too familiar.
So, too, their circulatory and respiratory systems take in oxygen and transport vital substances around the body; their digestive system is of a similar type to mine; they give birth to live young and, like me, they’ve chosen to take some time out on the Fraser Coast.
Lucky for me my weight, even with the rich holiday-diet, falls a long way short of 40 tonnes – and it’s here, thank goodness, that our similarities end.
During the course of whale watching season, about four to five thousand humpbacks will spend anywhere from a day or two to two weeks relaxing and nurturing their young in the sheltered lee of Fraser Island.
It’s easy to draw a parallel to the large numbers of tourists that fill the resorts and camping areas on Fraser – relaxing and nurturing their young on the world’s largest sand island.
For holidaymakers travelling to the Fraser Coast from August to September to whale watch, there is the added bonus of visiting World Heritage-listed Fraser Island and combining the best nature has to offer in one very convenient nature escape.
Staying at Kingfisher Bay Resort, an eco-tourism haven conveniently secreted in a natural sand amphitheatre on the western side of the island, means you can combine your whale watching with a healthy dose of eco-tourism, nature walks, bush tucker talks, four-wheel-driving on sand and track.
Kingfisher also offers a fully guided Beauty Spots tour of Fraser Island, where you can exfoliate with Lake McKenzie’s golden sands and snap a picture-perfect shot of the Maheno shipwreck’s rusting hulk.
Fraser Island is a utopian mass of sand – it offers nature lovers the chance to feel golden granules between the toes, surrounded by pure white sandy beaches, the blue, blue water of Lake McKenzie and those splendid humpbacks.
Kingfisher Bay Resort offers a Fraser And Whales package, which includes two nights’ resort hotel accommodation, hot buffet breakfast daily, return catamaran transfers and a whale cruise with skipper Brian and co for just $389 per person twin share.
Qantas operates daily services from Brisbane to the Fraser Coast; direct flights are available ex-Sydney with connections from other major cities. QR’s Traveltrain runs Tilt and Sunlander services to Maryborough West with Rail Link connections and there’s secure parking at Urangan Boat Harbour for self-drivers. For more information, visit www.kingfisherbay.com.
Know your ‘whale speak’
The humpback is the most active of all the great whales. Typical surface behaviours include:
- Spy hop – occurs when the whale rises vertically in the water with their eyes just out of the water. The whale maintains this position for a while, before slipping beneath the surface,
- Foot print – when a whale dives, the up-thrust of its tail drives water toward the surface. On the surface this can be seen as a round, calm area of flat water, known as a whale’s footprint.
- Pectoral slap – the humpback has a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins. During the pectoral slap, the whale rolls onto its side and slaps its fin against the side of the water.
- Breach – this happens when a whale propels two-thirds of its stocky body out of the water – then falls back with an almighty splash. Often times the whale can clear two-thirds of its considerable body out of the water.
- Peduncle slap – this is a forceful move where the peduncle (area from the dorsal fin to the tail) and flukes are thrown out of the water and slapped back down.
- Tail Slap – occurs when the body of the whale is submerged and the tail slaps against the surface.
- Fluke Up – if the flukes are high above the surface this usually signifies a deep dive.
Whales on our doorstep
Stuck in the city and dying to see the whales? Never fear … Brisbane Whale Watching is here. From the end of June until November, tours to see the mighty creatures on their migration depart daily from Redcliff Jetty, an easy 30-minute drive from the Brisbane CBD.
Having operated for 15 years, Brisbane Whale Watching knows some of the best spots to find whales around the Moreton Bay Marine Park.
Guests will be transported on the MV Eye-Spy by the South Pacific’s only female captain of a whale watch vessel, Captain Kerry Lopez.
And she’s pretty excited about the season ahead. Despite the environmental challenges that Moreton Bay has had to endure this past year, it seems the waters are once again pristine and ready to welcome an ever-growing visitation from the whales.
“With 10,000 whales sighted in the bay last year and an expected growth forecast for the season of up to 12 per cent, we’re pretty sure there is going to be a very healthy whale population migrating through the bay,” says Captain Lopez.
“This is amazing when you think back to 1964 when we had just 100 whales. Now, not only are there countless pods of playful Humpbacks to be sighted, but the bay is also rich with dolphins, loggerhead turtles, bird life and some special visitors like Stitches, the whale who is easily identified with a cross mark.”
MV Eye-Spy is a multi-million dollar purpose-built luxury catamaran offering the ultimate in stability and technology. It has six viewing decks and floor-to-ceiling glass for those wishing to stay inside in air-conditioned comfort.
Daily coach transfers are available from Brisbane CBD and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. Tours, which include lunch, morning and afternoon tea, depart daily at 10am and return around 2.30pm.
For bookings and more information, go to www.brisbanewhalewatching.com.au
Have you ever witnessed a whale breach? Would you like to swim with the whales?
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