Every year I write about the whale migration up (and down) Australia’s east coast, and visit the whales when they stop for a bit of R&R in the calm waters of Platypus Bay between Fraser Island and the mainland. Every year more and more whales participate in the long swim from Antarctica to the tropical waters around the Whitsundays where the females give birth to their calves. They drop in on the way back down, pausing in Hervey Bay to fatten up their calves for the polar cold. The pre-adult youngsters do a bit of socialising with each other and with the funny little air-breathers on the boats. The adult males are more interested in fighting and sex. (That seems to be fairly common in males of many species.) The adult females look after their calves, which a male will brush aside in his hurry to get to a female, even if she’s not necessarily interested in his advances. (Understandable. She’s just squeezed out a six-metre baby that’s been in her womb for a year and she’s feeding her bub fifty litres of milk a day. She’s probably not feeling very sexy.)
The point is the whales hang around for as much as a week or more before they continue on back to the feeding grounds in Antarctica. About anywhere else on the coast they’re moving. They might put on a short performance but in Hervey Bay you’re sure to see a show.
In short, our bay is a wonderful place to meet the big cetaceans. The days when whales were hunted are fading but it’s as well to remember that as recently as the nineteen seventies the whales were at the brink of extinction, with only a few hundred remaining. These days somewhere around ten thousand whales make the big swim from the South – and that’s just on the East coast. Others swim up the west coast, and up the coasts of Africa. Most of our visitors are humpbacks but as the years go by, we’re seeing the occasional Minke and Southern right whales.
Hervey Bay takes the whales very seriously. For the months from late July to late October the whale- watching boats are busy taking visitors out to see the whales. We have a week-long whale festival in late July to welcome the whales back to our bay. You’ll see statues of whales in three different places in what’s a fairly small town. There’s one at the cultural centre, named after Nala, a female who comes into the Bay every year. There’s one at the water park, and there’s a fairly simple one at the harbour, greeting visitors as they step off buses to get to the boats.
And now the Bay’s claim to be one of THE great spots to meet the ocean’s giants has been officially recognised. Hervey Bay is the world’s FIRST whale heritage area.
May there be many more.