Tag Archives: whales

Not every whale story is happy

The Great Sandy Strait

I’m busy editing my latest book, ‘For the Greater Good’. For anyone interested in that aspect of me, take yourself over to my spot at Spacefreighters Lounge for all the news.

The event that caught my interest this week was the ‘beaching’ of two juvenile whales in the Great Sandy Strait, which separates Fraser Island from the mainland. The strait is treacherous, with shifting sandbars and narrow channels, all exacerbated by the tides. These two young whales must have taken a left at Inskip Point, and simply run out of water in that area between the two occurrences of the words ‘Great Sandy Strait’ on the map, among those islands. A few years ago, a pod of orcas made the same mistake. Most of them made it out to the Bay, with help from the whaling community up here, although two died. Reports are starting to come out that Parks and Wildlife did not want help from the whaling people here in trying to rescue this pair. If that’s true, I’m horrified. Humpbacks have recovered well after having been at the brink of extinction and as their numbers grow, incidents are bound to happen. Some calves won’t make it, some whales will become sick, and some will get stuck in shark nets along their migration route. (I abhor those things – the reasoning is the nets are there to protect swimmers, but they catch anything that hits them – sharks, dolphins, turtles, fish, whales) Surely we must offer them help when they need it, especially if they’re caught up in situations where they cannot help themselves.

And in this context I’ll mention another recent incident captured on video – a humpback encumbered with bundles of heavy rope that had cut into its dorsal fin. Here’s the story told by a young man brave enough to go into the water to help the creature. Mind you, I know I would have, too. Anyway, the story is that the experienced people at Parks and Wildlife were not around to help with that whale because they were down south attending a training session. Which leaves me speechless. Whale season is from July to November, every year, without fail. The first arrivals are always the inexperienced youngsters, the teenagers if you like, and just like human teenagers, bullet proof and willing to take risks – or make mistakes. THAT’s when the experienced rangers should be on duty, to help prevent these mistakes becoming tragedy – especially when it’s about getting entangled in human ropes.

I’ll be going whale watching as part of a mentored photography group later in the month. I’m hoping there will be some happy photos. Meanwhile, here’s some photos from seasons past.

And here’s some of my previous whale watching posts.

It’s that time of year again 2016

The whales are back 2015

I had a whale of a time 2014

It’s whale time in Hervey Bay 2013

 

A whale leaves a footprint made by the huge tail

A young whale spy hopping – checking out the people on the boat

This is a fairly lazy breach. Just enough energy to give the whale a good look around

Check out the size of the whales against this runabout – and they’re not even bog ones

It’s that time of the year again

Raser Island gets rain something like 300 days a year - this is one of those days. We're in Platypus Bay

Fraser Island gets rain something like 300 days a year – this is one of those days. We’re in Platypus Bay

It’s that time of the year again. The whales are back! Humpbacks are on their annual migration from Antarctica to the Whitsundays to have their babies. They stop off in the shallow, calm waters of Platypus Bay off Fraser Island to fatten their calves, mate, and generally mooch around before heading back down to the rich feeding grounds around the South Pole. This break in the journey gives us humans a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with these enormous, curious, gentle giants.

I go whale watching at least once a year, every year. Each trip is different, no trip has been disappointing. Sometimes you see the spectacular breach, sometimes you’ll see mums and bubs, sometimes pods of four or five males doing that macho thing, sometimes a curious juvenile will pause and stick its head above the water to check out the little critters on the boats.

This year a couple of friends and I went out to see what was around. The weather had been poor, with wind and rain, but the bay settled down for us, with a breeze from the south – which meant Platypus Bay was protected by Fraser Island. We encountered a number of pods, most of which were pretty quiet (as in no breaching etc) but the boat was ‘mugged’ by a group of five juveniles which hung around VERY close to the boat and swum under the hull. We saw some tail stands, a bit of tail slapping, and one whale breached on the other side of the boat from where I stood with my camera.

Yes, I took photos. But (clears throat) I pretty much deleted all of them. Operator error I’m afraid. The shutter speed wasn’t high enough to stop the action – which is good sometimes – but not always. However, all is not lost. I have lots of whale pictures. So here’s this week’s photo gallery. I have whale photos on all the sites where I sell pictures. Take a look at Red Bubble or at Dreamstime or at My Profile on Can Stock Photo

A young whale spy hopping - checking out the people on the boat

A young whale spy hopping – checking out the people on the boat

Check out the size of the whales against this runabout - and they're not even bog ones

Check out the size of the whales against this runabout – and they’re not even big ones

A whale leaves a footprint made by the huge tail

A whale leaves a footprint made by the huge tail

Rainbow in the spray. It has just exhaled

Rainbow in the spray. It has just exhaled

This was so close I couldn't catch all the action

This was so close I couldn’t catch all the action

But I did with this one.

But I did with this one.

The whales are back

Whale season is a great time here at Hervey Bay. The whale migration, when the whales swim north from Antarctica up to the warm waters of the Whitsundays and beyond, then back down to the feeding grounds in the icy south, happens every year. The whales appear in late July, with the first arrivals being sub-adults which haven’t yet reached sexual maturity. They’ll motor along at about eight knots up the Queensland coast – quite a clip. But some, in fact rather a lot, drop into the calm, shallow waters of Hervey Bay for a spot of R&R. They’ll stay for a day, or a week, depending, I suppose, on what their fancy takes them. They relax, slow down, play. Do a spot of people-watching. And we people are just as pleased that they drop in to meet us.

I took my first whale watch cruise for the 2015 season on the big yellow whale-watch boat, Spirit of Hervey Bay. (That’s a link to their Facebook page, where you can see lots of lovely photos.) Unlike our usual clear, calm winter days, the weather was a bit ordinary, with a turbulent sky and choppy seas. But there’s always a plus. It seems when the weather’s a little rough, the whales tend to put on a performance. And this day was no exception. Here’s a few shots for your edification. And put it on your bucket list. Sure, you can see whales in lots of places. But there aren’t too many where they’ll hang around and play.

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I had a whale of a time

Every year, between late July and early November, the whales come into Hervey Bay on their great migration north from Antarctica, where they seek the warmer waters to have their calves and mate. Sometimes they stay for a while in the calm waters of Platypus Bay off Fraser island, and watch the humans on their floating, moving islands. And the humans on their boats watch them.

In the mid-seventies, when whaling was finally stopped, humpback numbers on Australia’s east coast were down to a few hundred. Now, it’s back to around seventeen thousand. Something like five thousand of them will stop in at Platypus Bay for a few hours, or a few days. It’s shallow and safe, a great place to fatten up the newborns before the long trek south. So over the season you’ll see mums and bubs, randy males and curious sub-adults.

Yesterday I made my first trip out to Platypus Bay for this season, camera ready, sunblock applied and warmly covered against the chilly breeze. August is a great time to meet these gentle giants. The population is mainly juveniles, young whales not yet sexually mature. They’re the humpback equivalent of teenagers; cocky, sure of themselves and very curious. So join me on a virtual visit to Platypus Bay. We’ll start with the rainbow over Fraser Island as we journeyed along the island’s coast to Platypus Bay.

This young whale is sky hopping – poking its head above the surface to look at the people on the boat. It can see perfectly well through the water. The man is holding an underwater microphone, not a pike.

The same young whale pictured above came to say hello to us

Just the nostrils above the surface. The long white pectoral fins and the whale’s white belly are obvious. As you can see, the whales come in very close, circling the boat or swimming underneath

Further along, things became a bit more active. At one stage I saw five different whales breaching – flinging themselves out of the water. Once, two whales together breached at the same time (no picture, sad to say)

They'll breach quite close to the boat - too close for this shot

They’ll breach quite close to the boat – too close for this shot

What goes up, must come down – with one helluva splash and a wave for good measure.

I go whale watching several times every year. If you’ve reached this point, you might be interested in this article. It will tell you a little bit more about the whales.

It’s whale time in Hervey Bay

A whale calf practices breaching

A whale calf practices breaching

Those who know me would be aware that I’ll take any opportunity to go out and watch the whales in my own back yard. In August, the youngsters from last year’s crop show up. They’re young, sexually immature, curious and playful, so if you’re on one of the fleet of whale boats taking tourists out to visit, you’re sure to see a show. The boats are not permitted to chase the whales, or come in too close – but the whales are quite happy to approach the boats for a close-up look at the funny little air-breathers on the decks. I’m sure they do a LOT of people watching and as times have changed and they are no longer hunted, they’re happy to share the space with us.

A whale does some people spotting, waving as it goes by the boat

A whale does some people spotting, waving as it goes by the boat

A whale exhales close to the boat

A whale exhales close to the boat

A whale lies on her back at the surface while her calf moves over body

A whale lies on her back at the surface while her calf moves over body

But this year I was elsewhere in August, so now it’s September, which is mums with bubs time. The females stop in Hervey Bay’s warm, comparatively safe waters, to feed up their calves, building their fat reserves for the cold of the Antarctic waters. Whales don’t suckle. Their milk is extremely high in fat (figures vary so much – somewhere between 30% to 50% seems safe) and has the consistency of yoghurt. The female expresses milk into the water near the ocean floor and the calf scoops up the fatty fluid in its mouth. On this rich diet it puts on as much as 80kg per day. In contrast, the adult whales rarely eat on their migration, relying on the fat reserves built up on krill during the summer months, before the annual migration.

In between feeds the mothers teach their offspring how to do whaley things, like breach to find their way around. Baleen whales, which includes humpbacks, right whales, Minki whales and others, don’t use echo location like the toothed whales – Orcas, sperm whales, dolphins etc. Breaching is thought to be an important way the whales locate where they are. (Scientists also think they do it to knock off parasites and maybe discourage predators. What that means is the only reason we KNOW they do it is for fun.)

Later in the year you’ll see mature males chasing females for the right to mate. They don’t care if she has a calf with her, they’ll shove the youngster out of the way for a chance to get at mum. If there’s more than one male, they’ll fight, using their massive size to try to dominate each other. I once watched a group of five males wrestling, blowing noisy threats through their blowholes and damaging each other with the barnacles that soon attach to every whale’s body. They completely ignored the boat in the way.

An adult humpback shows how it's done

An adult humpback shows how it’s done

Humpbacks are noted for their athleticism. Those incredibly long pectoral fins add to their ability to manoeuvre and seeing one of these massive creatures breach is a privilege. A beast the size of a locomotive launches itself into the air with a couple of flips of that powerful tail, performs some aerobatics and then crashes back down into the water. It’s a wonderful sight to see.

One last factoid – these are southern humpbacks. Their bellies are mostly white. Their cousins in the northern hemisphere are basically black all over.