Tag Archives: Hervey Bay

Whales and dolphins, oh my

The annual whale migration from the Antarctic up both coasts of Australia is underway. Numbers are growing and though it’s early days before the main influx, there are quite a few whales in the Bay. I decided to take advantage of some wonderful cool, calm, Winter weather and go off on a whale watch to see what we could see. I went with minimal expectations – Hervey Bay holds a *lot* of water and though whales are big, they’re scattered and they spend a lot of time beneath the surface, so they can be hard to find. But I was pretty sure we wouldn’t go back to port without having seen a whale up close and personal.

I was right, of course.

Freedom III is one of Hervey Bay’s small fleet of about seven whale watch boats. I’ve been on all of them and they all offer great value for money. But each has its own niche, if you like. Some feed you, one’s a yacht, one’s large with heaps of deck space, some go out for short trips, others spend most of the day. Since I live here, I’m happy to dedicate the whole day to whale watching. It’s about a 45 minute trip from the harbour into Platypus Bay off Fraser Island where the whales are mainly seen, which means if you’re on a four-hour tour, that’s actually two and a half hours up where the whales are. That’s just fine in peak season (August-September-October) when it’s kinda sorta wall to wall whales, but not so early in the season. Freedom leaves at 9:30 and gets back at 4pm, which gives us five hours to find pods. (A ‘pod’ is a group of two or more whales. They don’t stay together for long, it’s more like meeting a buddy and saying ‘hi’, then going off on your own.) While you’re out on the boat, you get morning tea (profiteroles and warm scones with jam and cream), lunch (chicken, roast beef, potato salad, mixed salad with fetta, warm dinner rolls), and afternoon tea (cheese, biscuits, and fresh fruit). You can buy alcohol and/or fizzy drinks, and water, coffee, and tea are on the house.

Context; boat, two whales, and Fraser Island

The weather was superb – few clouds, not much wind, flat sea. Freedom carries 45 passengers, but there were certainly less than thirty, so we had plenty of room.  The vessel headed on up past Moon Point into Platypus Bay and we soon encountered a young humpback who hung about at a distance before he disappeared. Oh well. I suppose some whales are shy. Moving right along.

Curious youngsters checking us out

A couple of youngsters came over to say hello. They’re smart and they’re curious. They can see and hear underwater much better than we can, so even if their eyes are below the water, they can still see the humans waving at them. We caught a few spyhops (that’s when they put their snouts above the water).

Whales are unpredictable critters. One pod we visited splashed around and checked us out, but then the whales went quiet, so we went off to find some others. That’s when we saw our first breach – behind the boat. The two we’d been with decided to perform. Bugger. But that’s how it is with wild creatures. We were in their country and they were just doing what whales do.

I did manage to get a series of shots of another breach. It’s always amazing to see a huge creature fling itself out of the water with a couple of flips of its tail. These are not very big whales. At this time of year most of the whales are juveniles, not sexually mature. You could say they’re whale teenagers. But even so, they’re big. A whale calf is born at about four and a half metres, and they grow fast.Further out in the Bay we were treated to a supporting act from a few of the local bottle nosed dolphins, who surfed the bow. Freedom, like all the whale boats, is a catamaran. Each hull played host to a dolphin. In fact, they were VERY disappointed when we slowed down for a whale encounter. The dolphins went over to the whales to have some sort of fishy conversation. We were told the dolphins surf the whales, too. Whales can travel very fast when they want to, creating a bow wave under their bodies. The dolphins surf on that, the same way they surf the boat.

One dolphin in particular hung around, aware, I’m sure, that we would have to leave and that then we’d pick up speed. Every time the skipper moved the boat he’d be back, waiting for some action. He had a short last run before we moved out of his territory.

All in all, it was a great day, exceeding expectations.

 

 

The rythmn of life

The start of a new day

I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little bit sick of reading about ISSUES such as the price of electricity, equitable distribution of GST, ‘single use’ plastic bags that aren’t, and Donald Trump. And Brexit. Not that these matters are not important – they are. But they become depressing, so for this Saturday I’ll show you a few pictures of Hervey Bay in Winter – a season we actually love, with warm days, cool nights, lower humidity, and not much breeze.

Those conditions mean we often get night time mist, which I can translate into the picture at top when the sun comes up, its rays lancing between the branches.

The sun at a low angle enabled me to take this photo of a backlit cordyline. The green circle is lens flare – light reflecting inside the lens.

A shower can bring its own reward. This perfect double rainbow was a glory to behold. The entire arc was visible, but my lens couldn’t quite manage the width.

Bright, calm days are lovely at the beach at Scarness

It’s a bit cool for the locals, but visitors from Europe or the southern states of Australia are right into the water. The seagulls are talking about this pair.

The Brahmani kites watch proceedings from a beachside tree above theit hidden nest

Sometimes the sun has to do some burning off just after dawn. A pelican watches a paddle boarder set out

This large flock of cormorants decided to move position further down the beach. They were absolutely silent most flying just above the water

You have to walk a loooong way out to find water deep enough to swim

The next day the mist was even thicker. It didn’t deter the fisherman, though. Or the walkers. You can just see the Brahmani kites half way along the rocks at the back behind the fisherman

Here are the kites in close up.

The sun eventually did break through

And there are always seagulls. Interesting point – unlike places like Perth, the gulls here are not scavenging pests. That’s left to the ibises (aka bin chickens).

The mist clung to the cobwebs in this beachside casuarina

And here’s a sunset, just to prove we sometimes do get clouds.

I hope you enjoyed – we certainly did.

Pelicans

Shaping to land

Shaping to land

It’s actually pretty easy to get a half decent photo of a pelican. They’re such majestic birds, floating through the air on those massive wings, hardly bothering to flap. Or soaring on an up draft. They’re so big they don’t worry much about humans, either. In fact, returning fishermen are sought out, particularly while they’re cleaning a catch.

Pelicans are everywhere. They frequent lakes, beaches and rivers – and they’ll fly thousands of miles into Australia’s dead heart when the inland rivers run and the salt lakes fill with water. I shared a couple of photos of the thousands of birds on Lake Eyre last March. Nobody knows how they know the lake is full.

But while it’s exceptionally simple to catch a nice photo of a pelican bobbing on water, reflected in a calm surface, I like to capture birds doing what they do. Burrum Heads, the mouth of the Burrum River, which is a short drive north of Hervey Bay, is a great place to see pelicans, and a great place to catch them landing on the water, or taking off. But we do get them down our beach at Torquay, or hanging around the Urangan pier watching the fishermen.

Here’s a few of my favourite pelican pictures.

A light pole on the Urangan pier is a favourite spot

A light pole on the Urangan pier is a favourite spot

Waddling out to the water at the beach Hervey Bay

Waddling out to the water at the beach Hervey Bay

Take off in formation

Take off in formation

Landing in formation

Landing in formation

Bundaberg botanic garden

Bundaberg botanic garden

 

 

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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It’s whale time in Hervey Bay

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.

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.

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

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.

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.