Starting our road trip down the East Coast, we only had one item on the itinerary; See the whale migration in Hervey Bay. After that, we’d take it as it comes.
From July to October, it’s possible to spot whales anywhere along the East coast but typically not unless you are out at sea. The whales flee the cold waters in the South to give birth to their young in the warmer Northern waters. As they head back down the coast, Hervey Bay creates a perfect sanctuary for the mother whales to fatten up and train their babies before heading back to the Antarctic Sea. It’s known as the premier whale watching destination in Australia. As we set out to Platypus Bay, sheltered by Fraser Island, we immediately saw 2 whales (called pods) just a few meters from the boat. They came up to the surface and flicked their tails as they dove down. Then resurface on their side and flicked us a wave with their fin. You could hear the cameras clicking madly, trying to get that perfect shot. We quickly realized this was only the beginning. Shortly after we were surrounded by 8 or so pods, the guide reckons their were 15 whales within a 200m radius!! The waters were bubbling with their blow holes and ‘footprints’ – the impression they leave on the water after surfacing. Just then you’d see one breach in the distance. My biggest complex was deciding where to stand. Just as you get to the front of the boat and see a whale so close you could touch it, you’d hear someone shout from the back that another whale had approached. I would have never thought whale watching could be such an adrenaline activity.
It wasn’t that we were particularly ‘special’ in having the close encounter experience that we did. The whales are actually intrigued by the engine vibrations of the boat and come in for a look. These whales have been coming to Hervey Bay for centuries and know that we are not a threat (for better or worse). Unfortunately this also means that there can be boat collisions with inexperienced drivers. We saw one adolescent whale with a large scar on its tail that the guide guessed was caused by a boat. Seeing these gentle giants up close was (yet another) emotional experience for me. Whale hunting is unfortunately still a serious problem in the Antarctic waters, mostly hunted by the Japanese. The number of killings are decreasing due to organizations like the Sea Shepherds who will actually go to war at sea with the whale hunters if necessarily. Real live pirates(!), with a cause. Last year they successfully saved 900 out of 1032 whales from being poached (that we know of), go Sea Shepherds!
I left feeling inspired. Another great day.