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.visitfrasercoast.com
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.