Whale-watching in a pandemic

posted in: Life and things | 2
Hello there

After a short period of smugness as we in Australia compared our covid-19 statistics with those of countries like Brazil, the USA, and the United Kingdom, the virus snuck up behind us and yelled “SURPRISE!” But we in Queensland could still afford a bit of hubris. After all, the mounting figures were in Victoria and, to a lesser extent, New South Wales.

But viruses are experts at subterfuge – and they take advantage of stupidity. Queenslanders were shocked out of complacency when it was revealed that two young women had been to Melbourne in July and returned with covid-19. The story is they’d travelled to Melbourne to steal up-market handbags. Read a news report here. While there, they attended an illegal party involving about thirty people. They flew back from Melbourne via Sydney without leaving Sydney airport. They lied about their movements on their entry documents back into Brisbane, they kept working, shopping, and going to restaurants while possibly infected and ignored advice to get tested. In short, they were idiots who have passed on the virus to other people in the community.

Today’s youth believe they’re bullet-proof. So was I when I was nineteen. I’ll bet you were, too. But I can’t help thinking there’s more to the story. It’s not just a quick holiday trip to Melbourne and back. The women are apparently facing criminal investigations over a number of matters. That’s for the police. For the rest of us, it’s an object lesson on how quickly this disease can spread within the community. One woman’s sister has been infected. The school where one of them worked as a cleaner has been closed for deep-cleaning, and hundreds of staff and students will be tested. Restaurants and shops they visited are at risk of closure. It’s like raindrops falling into a pond and causing ripples. Diseased ripples.

I suppose we in Queensland thought we were safe behind our border controls. But the border controls rely on people’s honesty about where they’ve come from and where they’ve been. This isn’t the first time travellers have been caught telling lies but it’s clearly the most significant.

Those young women are in quarantine under police guard, as much for their protection as anything else. The people are Not. Happy. We wait with fingers, toes, eyes, arms all crossed, hoping we don’t end up with a new round of infections like Sydney and Melbourne.

Back in Hervey Bay, the whales are pausing in their migration and dribbling into the bay for some rest and recreation. I picked what I hoped would be a nice day and joined the Queensland-only visitors to go out and say hi. It’s early in the season but whales had been showing up since mid-June so I figured we might come across some curious youngsters. I’d been out early in previous years and had a fabulous day.

But every day is different. Our skipper told us that there were very few whales in the southern part of the bay, so we’d have to travel up to the northern parts of Platypus Bay, up near Sandy Cape. Even then, the whale boat skippers have found the whales to be elusive.

You might miss it if you didn’t know it was there. That’s Fraser Island behind the whale.

Wide Bay is called that for a reason. It’s an awful lot of water and though whales are big, they’re pretty hard to pick when they’re just cruising along – just dark gray backs and an occasional spume of exhaled breath. And so it was. We didn’t see our first whale for well over an hour. Meanwhile, we were served morning tea. Back in the PC days (pre-covid) we helped ourselves to scones and profiteroles buffet-style. But now we were given numbers and went down to the main salon to collect our plate of goodies from the crew (after sanitising our hands). Lunch was served in a similar fashion.

Lift the tail for the tail slap…
And… splash

Our first bit of action came not long after the morning tea plates were cleared away. A couple of juvenile humpbacks came over to say hello, with much waving of pectorals and some robust tail-slapping. That was when things became slightly uncomfortable. If the whales are close to the boat, the skipper can’t move and has to shut the engines right down. After last week’s wild weather further down the coast, the swell was considerable, I’d say two metres or more. If the boat was positioned parallel to the waves, she rocked around like a cork in a bathtub, slopping from side to side, which is a tad difficult to manage when you’re trying to take photos.

That wasn’t the worst of it!

I’d had some trouble with my 70-300 lens. It wasn’t connecting properly to the camera body, thus not taking a photo. Pete looked up the fix on the web and cleaned the contacts with alcohol. After testing, all seemed good, so off I went, confident the camera would behave.

It didn’t.

I spent a LOT of time swearing under my breath and sometimes out loud as I switched the camera off and on each time it showed an error message. Most, but not all, of the failures happened when I tried to zoom the lens. But while I didn’t capture the only breach we saw, I managed a reasonable set of pictures. The lens will be going to the camera doctor some time next week. And no, it’s not the camera. Other lenses work fine, and this lens misbehaves on both cameras. So that was my Not. Happy. Jan. moment.

Up close and personal. The whale is lying on its back, very relaxed
The whale’s tail is like a footprint – every tail is different. I would have taken a close-up if I could (sigh)

Still, there’s always a bright side. I saw a news report the other evening where people on a whale watching trip out of the Sunshine Coast got all excited because a whale actually got off the whale highway (a deep trench running up the eastern seaboard that the whales use on their migration) to come over and say hello. I thought it was very nice for them – but clearly that didn’t happen often. Here in Hervey Bay it happens ALL THE TIME. I’ve never been on a trip where we weren’t within touching distance of a whale. I guess that put this latest trip into perspective.

The skipper, in his own words, travelled home as close to Fraser Island as he dared to avoid the swell and give us all a relatively smooth run back to the harbour. I was able to take some great pictures of the biggest sand island in the world as we went by.

Cruising home
Layer upon layer of sand. And yet it’s home to a rain forest
White sand and white trunks

2 Responses

  1. Mike Hayward

    You still got some great photos and obviously had a super day out.

    • Greta

      I did, Mike. I would have been devastated if the camera had failed altogether.

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