The Last of the Whales

Whale off Fraser Island

Whale season is drawing to its inevitable close. Since late July the Bay has been jumping with acrobatic humpbacks, a curious Right Whale and her calf, who hung around for a couple of weeks and even did some breaching, and a few Minki whales. As many as twenty-four thousand whales do the annual migration up the East Coast of Australia and it’s estimated a third of them drop into Hervey Bay on the way down south.

But now it’s only the stragglers left. Mums in a hurry to fatten up bubs before going down to the ice, the cold – and the krill – in Antarctica. Sandy and I left the boys at home to potter and took a whale boat for what will be almost the last whale watch trip this season. There weren’t a lot of whales left and mums and bubs are hard to spot. They’re spending most of their time on the bottom, feeding the calf. Whales aren’t built for suckling. The mother expresses her milk from her body, where, being forty percent fat, it floats in the water. The calf scoops up copious quantities – anywhere from fifty to five hundred litres a day, loading itself up with blubber to insulate it against the colder temperatures down south. It triples its body weight – about one tonne to three tonnes – in its first year of life.

Mother and calf

If the boats are lucky, they’ll come across a lively calf living it up around mum. They’ve got lots of energy and can entertain for long periods as they practise whaley stuff like breaching, tail-slapping, pectoral waves and the like. We saw three pods, most of them passive. We saw some vigorous activity (lots of splashing) a fair way away and the skipper headed over there. But, as so often happens, by the time we arrived it was all over and mum was a floating, breathing log, with her baby close to her side. We did get a burst of activity late in the day, with a calf doing laps and throwing itself around but they didn’t come near the boat so the pictures were more like long distance splashing. Still and all, it’s wild creatures doing what wild creatures do, so everything is a privilege.The camera ran out of power and, after tossing up whether it was worth it, I went down to the cabin to find my spare battery. When I got back Sandy, who was wearing polaroid sunglasses, pointed at a spot nearby. “It’s right there.” I pointed the camera – and blow me down, the little bugger popped headfirst up out of the water. It was the shot of the day. Of the one hundred  and fifty or so pictures I took, I’ve kept three or four. Maybe if I’d never seen a whale before, I would have kept more but I’m an old hand at this whale watching caper.

Still, it was a lovely day out on the water, not too hot and not at all rough, although the wind picked up in the late afternoon. And since we were on Freedom III, the food was marvellous.

Here’s a few photos I took in earlier seasons.

This baby humpback holds itself above the surface to look at the boat

Mum is lying on her back, pectorals extended. The calf is crossing her body

 

A mother humpback whale and her calf approach the boat in Platypus Bay

A whale calf rolls over in the warm waters of Platypus Bay off Fraser Island

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