Whale Watching – Pacific Whale Foundation

Hervey Bay, on Queensland’s Fraser Coast, is known as one of the best places in the world to watch humpback whales. Yes, you read that right – in the world. Don’t believe me? The waters off Hervey Bay have been scientifically recognised as a rare stopover site for migrating humpback whales and was the world’s first Whale Heritage Site. It’s where the whales stop, stay, and play during their winter migration. Rest and relaxation whale style. It’s also where mums bring their young – a safe place to nurse and teach them before heading back to their feeding grounds in the Antarctic. For young whales, it’s also a place to flex their muscles.

Twenty years of scientific research has proven that Hervey Bay is the only genuine stopover in what is one of the longest mammal migration journeys on the planet – a 10,000-kilometer round trip from the southern ocean to the tropics and back again.

Pic taken by Sarah’s friend Madi

Back in 1986, operators began offering commercial whale-watching tours – the first in Australia to do so. As a result, there are a number of boats to consider when you’re choosing your whale watching adventure. All options are covered – from family-friendly, to cruises offering yummy lunches, to those where you can spend the whole day out on the water. You can, if you want, even spend the morning watching the whales and the afternoon on Fraser Island. Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours have a great rundown of the tours available here.

For us, it was all about the whales and learning more about the animals and their behaviour, so we chose to go with Pacific Whale Foundation.

A smaller boat, you’re at eye level with the whales, but, most importantly, there’s a marine biologist on board for every trip. Plus, your tour dollars go directly to the foundation to assist with future research. (For the record, they’re about to publish the research paper from the last few years – the impact on whale behaviour as a result of human interaction through activities such as swimming with the whales.)

As for what we saw? Pretty much everything in the pamphlet or the whale playbook – and that doesn’t happen every tour so we know just how lucky we were.

At the same time, we learnt about them and the epic migration they do. The whales that call in here, you see, really do come in for some R&R. Some spend a few days, some spend a few weeks. Some might be sub-adults flexing their muscles and practising their moves ready for the long trek back to Antarctica; some might be hanging about looking for a female, some might be nursing mothers.

The whale in the pic above (and below) had been “mugging” this boat for well over an hour, popping up to have a look, diving under and around before popping back on the other side. All the time delighting the occupants who were effectively trapped until it decided to be on its way.

When it saw our boat, it swam over and did the same with us, flipping over onto its back so Darcy, the naturalist on board, could tell it was female.

It then proceeded to spend some time with us.

Aside from this whale, we saw a number of others. We also saw breaches, blows, pec slaps (where the pectoral fin is slapped against the water), spy hops (where the head pops up for a bit of a look around), peduncle throws (where the rear portion of the body is thrown up out of the water and then brought down sideways – sort of like a reverse breach) and so much more.

We learnt about the whales, their migration, and the fabulous research that is being undertaken.

We also learnt about whale song. For the record, only the males sing and they all sing the same song. Interestingly, the song changes each season – it begins with last season’s song and morphs into something new. Further, whales migrating up the Indian Ocean have a different song to the ones migrating up the east coast of the country. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

If you want to know more about the cruise we did and the work of the Pacific Whale Foundation, check out their website here.

Finally, a disclaimer. The Hervey Bay whale season runs from July to November, with most of the activity between August and October. Not every cruise will be the same and not every experience will be the same. Whales are wild animals and don’t perform to order. We took two cruises in the space of a week (had such a great time we went back for more) and were fortunate to see lots of awe-inspiring activity on both outings.

Also, we paid our own way.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

41 thoughts

  1. Wonderful photos, Jo! We were whale watching (by accident) on one of our hikes this weekend. We did not have the amazing close up you captured here. Fascinating information about Hervey Bay. Also interesting about the impact on whale behaviour and human interaction. I have heard the whale song only at the Imax theatre. Thank you for sharing an excellent post!

  2. Oh my goodness! Thank you for bringing us along for this breathtaking experience! I have never been whale watching before, and this is amazing!

  3. Gorgeous photos and so much I didn’t know. The thing about the song changing each year, but being the same for all is amazing.

  4. You got some great pics. We had planned to go swimming with the humpbacks but it feel thru due to my youngest’s age. We do go whale watching every year but it appears we will miss this season. Makes me sad – but I have to say, I got the biggest grin when I saw your thumbnail in the link up. I do love Instagram and FB for that – I get to see so many amazing things I normally wouldn’t.

    1. I’m the same – especially re Instagram. Seeing the experience of other people can feel deflating to some, but I find it inspiring.

  5. What a breathtaking experience and amazing photos, Jo. I love learning about the whale song from your post. I did a whale watching tour on Canada’s West Coast with a marine biologist on board and would definitely do it again. Thank you for linking up with #weekendcoffeeshare.

  6. Wow Jo – you had a much better experience than I did! Good choice who to go with. I have opened the link and I will go with them next time. Yes there will be a next time because the first time was awful and not at all what I had imagined my whale watching experience to be. How do you retain so much information?! You are always a source of so much info! Fantastic photographs by the way. Have a great week!

    1. Lol, I’m constantly making notes in my phone so I don’t forget little snippets. When it comes to wild animals you can’t predict their behaviour, but we got lucky on both outings.

  7. Oh to know their mind. . . .
    What do they think of these poor swimming little critters with strange floating machines that roar when they move?
    Surely there is a story here.
    But what is it?

    Great post Jo. It looks like you had so much fun.

  8. Thanks so much for this post Jo. I love whales and really enjoyed reading about them. Your photos are beautiful. We went whale watching a few years ago at the Gold Coast. We did see whales but nothing as stunning as you saw at Hervey Bay. If we ever get to travel again I’d love to do that tour.

    1. I go most years of Mooloolaba and have had some fantastic experiences, but nothing like these ones at Hervey Bay.

  9. Reblogged this on Beyond the Flow and commented:
    I was so exciting to go whale watching vicariously from my couch in the Sydney lockdown. I have never been to Hervey Bay but it’s now on my bucket list. Absolutely breathtaking. Thanks so much Joanne for sharing and making my day so much brighter!
    Best wishes,

  10. This just makes me want to do this sort of thing so much. Your photos are fabulous and the information so interesting! Thanks for sharing your trip with us who can’t get away at the moment, it made me smile 🙂

  11. Wow, Jo! Thank you so much for sharing your magnificent photos. I live at Umina Beach on the NSW Central Coast just North of Sydney, and unfortunately has been included in the Greater Sydney lockdown. Well, now the whole of NSW has been drawn into the net.
    I haven’t been to Hervey Bay but years ago I went to Monkey Mia in Western Australia. The dolphins weren’t in at the time, However, I did get to swim with a large turtle/tortoise and that was unforgettable, especially as it was so unexpected. It is also typical of me to do and experience something lateral.
    I noticed you’re also into baking. Me too. I’m having a bit of a break atm being in lockdown and I’m not so keen on the cleaning up side of baking. However, I am so used to home baked that I miss it.
    Anyway, I hope things with you are going well and you’re not drawn into this lockdown.
    Best wishes,

    1. I’ve always wanted to swim with a sea turtle and haven’t yet managed to be lucky enough to do it – although did try to at Hervey Bay earlier in the year and on the Barrier Reef.
      Baking is my zen and even the clean up afterwards has a process that takes me out of my head for a bit. Thanks for dropping round.

  12. Oh my goodness…that is amazing. We were in an area last weekend and almost went whale watching but here you now have to be a certain distance from them and it’s pretty far so we opted out. It would be so neat to see them so close though.

    1. There are very strict rules about how close you can go to them, but these ones were super curious. When they’re “mugging” the boats as they do, you can’t even put the engines back on until they’re about 100m away. The couple in the small boat in one of the pics were essentially held hostage by the whale for over an hour as it stayed around within that clearance space.

  13. LOVED this and learning more too. What a privilege it is when we get to see these amazing mammals up close. Your experience is the closest I have seen. I did a whale watching cruise out of Eden October 2012 when they were on their way home and go to see, as the boat announcer called it “teenage” behaviours of whales showing off.

    Thank you for linking up for Life This Week. Next week, the optional prompt is Time. I hope to see you link up again. Warmest wishes, Denyse.

  14. Your photos are amazing and I learned so much! Will definitely add this to my list of things to do in the Bay – that’s assuming we ever get unlocked and borders are one day opened! A girl can dream, can’t she?!

    1. And there are plenty of dog friendly places to stay. You might just need to leave Teddy Roo with a babysitter while you go whale watching – and I know just the person!

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