The Hervey Bay Guide to Whale Watching

picToday I’m thrilled to welcome Jacinta Padgett, an environmental scientist with a passion for environmental education.

Jacinta’s recently started blogging at  Diary of an Eco Traveller and is here to talk all-things-whale-watching!

If you ever get the chance to go whale watching, the one place you definitely need to be is Hervey Bay. Located approximately 300 km north of the Queensland capital, Brisbane, Hervey Bay hasn’t earned the reputation for being the whale watch capital of the world for nothing.

Every year, between July and November, thousands of humpback whales make their way into the calm, protected waters on the western side of Fraser Island known as Platypus Bay. This is where the whales stay and play on their way back to Antarctica, after spending the winter months up north to mate and give birth to their calves. This is also where the most amazing wildlife encounter you may ever possibly have in your life will happen. I know that’s a big call, but it’s true.

Imagine a fully grown humpback whale sidling up to your boat, rolling over and looking you straight in the eye! Or being so close that you feel as though you can virtually reach out and touch them (you’re not allowed to do that, by the way).

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I’ve been whale watching plenty of times before – in fact I still can’t believe that I used to get paid to do it – and I still get a rush of adrenaline each and every time I see them. It’s a fantastic experience, and one that keeps me (and plenty of others) going back again and again.

Whale watching in Hervey Bay is unlike anywhere else, and it is certainly something you will undoubtedly remember for a very long time. Before you head off on your adventure though, there are a few things you need to know. With that in mind, here is Hervey Bay’s comprehensive guide to whale watching:

1. You need to leave your inhibitions on the mainland
Humpback whales are curious creatures. To draw their attention you need to make yourself interesting to them. What does that mean, I hear you ask. Well, basically you need to wave your arms around like your life depends on it and make lots of noise. They love that.

If you are a bit shy and reserved, just remember that you will more than likely never see the people you are on the boat with again. If you make a fool of yourself in front of them will it really matter? No, it won’t and you’ll have a much better time for it. And they’ll all be doing exactly the same thing anyway.

2. You should wear a good pair of walking / running shoes
You will do A LOT of moving around the boat, and will more than likely engage in a game of what I like to call humpback hide-and-seek! If you are not familiar with the rules of this game, they go something like this: the whale swims under the boat, everyone on board hurries across the deck to the other side waiting for it to appear. The whale briefly comes up for air, then dives down again and swims back under the boat, popping up on the other side.

Everyone dashes across to see it. The whale then dives down and swims underneath the boat … and so on and so forth. I’m sure you get the picture.

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3. You may get mugged
The whales will often approach vessels and stay close, interacting with the people on board for significant periods of time (see previous point re: humpback hide-and-seek). This thrilling behaviour is known as ‘mugging’.

Who would have thought you could be mugged by a whale! And enjoy it!

4. The whales will be watching you, as much as you are watching them
Anecdotal evidence suggests that over the past few decades whale behaviour around boats within Hervey Bay has changed. During the early days of whale watching, whales would shy away from vessels. Females in particular would put themselves between the vessel and her calf. Now the story is completely different.

Indeed, it is often a case of ‘who is watching who’.

Females will now push their calves toward excited whale watchers. Having a 40 tonne whale showing you her calf is certainly awe-inspiring, and something you will remember for a long time to come.

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5. You may get covered in whale snot!
It is not pleasant, but it makes for a great story to tell your friends and family.

The ‘blow’ is usually the first thing whale watchers see. It is the exhalation of air, mucous and carbon dioxide from the whale’s lungs. As it is released, water vapour condenses and forms a misty spray.

While the whales are swimming alongside your boat they will be constantly coming to the surface to breathe. If you are unfortunate enough to be leaning over the side of the boat when they do just that, you will end up with a face full of whale snot! I speak from experience when I say it is disgusting and smelly if it happens to you. But is absolutely hilarious if it happens to someone else!

Regardless of whether or not you follow the suggestions I’ve outlined you will no doubt have a fantastic time with the whales, and will walk away with wonderful memories of some absolutely amazing animals.

I highly recommend spending time with them. It is something you will not regret. I promise.

Ed. For details of whale watching tours check out… Visit Fraser Coast.

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