The whale season in Hervey Bay is now! Many humpback whales drop in to Hervey Bay from August to October each year on their way south. Our ‘normal’ cruising season means we are usually further north at this time and while we certainly see whales further north, they do seem to be a bit more playful down here at the moment, especially when it’s a mother and calf.
The humpbacks travel north from Antarctica before winter and arrive in the Great Barrier Reef area around June, often stopping in the Whitsunday region to mate and give birth. By late October, most have travelled further south out of Queensland.
So one bonus of being a bit later this year is spending extra time in Hervey Bay along the Fraser Island coast, actually seeking out whale activity. Fortunately, the easterlies kicked in so we had some protected anchorages along Fraser Island which happens to be the largest sand island in the world! Not to mention some stunning sunsets.
If our first day of whale watching was all about pectoral fins, the second day was all about tails. Weird!
Whales have two pectoral fins (like arms I suppose). They apparently act like the whale’s rudder, steadying the whale. Whales often slap their pectoral fin repeatedly. This whale was certainly gaining a lot of attention with this action. It was also the longest fin we’d seen indicating it was a very large whale. My reading tells me female humpbacks use pectoral fin slapping as a way of flirting with and encouraging the attention of male humpbacks. This whale had a calf by her side so I think there was a bit of teaching going on and there was certainly a lot of practicing.
Here’s some photos from our first day … if you want larger photos, select the first photo and use the arrows to scroll through …
We were then treated to not only the mother breaching but also the calf. More lessons to be learnt!
Our second day, on the way to our Wathumba Creek anchorage towards the northern end of Fraser Island, with a slight detour, we spotted some whales out to sea and this time there was a lot of tail slapping going on. It turned out we had two different pods of whales around us. Keeping over our required 100 metre distance from the whales, I managed to snap a lot of photos of the activity going on around us. Love it!
Here’s a slide-show selection of whale tail photos … use the arrow to scroll through …
So why do whales slap their tails? The main reason is to warn off predators or other whales. The energy of the tail slap indicates the degree of concern. As I mentioned, there were two pods of whales around us so maybe there was some bluster going on between them. We also noticed some very gentle tail slapping (great for pics). Maybe it was directed at us and the whale-watching boat, reminding us to keep our distance?
Seeing the second pod of whales we cut our engines, while keeping our required distance from both pods. The first group were entertaining the whale-watching boat’s swimmers with their ‘swim with whales’ activity. This second pod of whales included three adult humpbacks. They cruised around us, coming quite close. We could hear their blow and I could even see the crustaceans on their back! Check out the rainbow I captured in the whale’s blow too.