Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Whale Watching

Hervey Bay's biggest claim to fame is it's whale watching.  From August through October the Humpback whales of Antarctica come to the warm shallow waters of the Bay to breed and give birth.  Most females will give birth at the beginning and then immediately get pregnant again for another long 11 month gestation until she returns to the Bay the following year to give birth again.  Our tour guide shared that this is all they do while they are here--they don't eat.  They feed on the crill in Antarctica, and the 3ish months they spend in the bay, neither the males or females eat anything.  However, the calves eat like crazy, putting on about 60 kilos (that's about 120 pounds) a day, feeding for 16 of the 24 hours in a day.  He also told us that the calves don't directly nurse.  The mom excretes the milk into the water near the calf.  This is possible because while human milk fat is about 2% and very liquid, whales milk fat is more like 48%, so it comes out the consistency of peanut butter, for easy chomping.  I thought that was fascinating, so I had to share.

Anyway, we kept putting it off because it was expensive and it didn't matter how many times people told us it was amazing and majestic, we just weren't sure it was majestic enough to justify the price.  However, I finally stumbled upon a buy on get one 50% ticket deal, so we decided to lump it and go.  It was really good.  I, of course, was enjoying another boat ride if nothing else.  This was a big one, with three levels for whale viewing:

We took off from Urangan Marina, which itself is very pretty:  

We cruised along the coast of Fraser Island up to Platypus Bay, where most of the whales that haven't already left were congregating.  We ended up seeing around 7 different pods (groups) of whales.  We saw probably 3-4 different Mom and calf groups.  One was just sleeping right under the surface and didn't budge even though we got really close in the boat.  One toward the end was actually breaching and doing a lot of acrobatics from afar (the guide guessed it was because one of the many sharks was trying to get a calf), but by the time we got over there the shark and left and everyone had calmed down again.  It was a calm day on the water, which usually means the whales are calm, too.  We didn't see any full breaching or flips or anything, but we did get to see a few interesting pods.  

The first was a group of 7 adult male whales that were fighting.  They got pretty rough, and they were using the barnacles on their undersides to scrape up the tops of the competing whales.  Here's a shot of a few of them, and you can see the scrapes on their top fins.  A couple were even bleeding:

They were very obliging and swam all around and under the boat, so we got a few good pictures of them.  This is probably the closest, so close I really needed to zoom out, but didn't have time.  You can see some of his barnacles, snout and blowhole:

The real "money" shot is the tail, and I began to see why.  It is very difficult to get a decent shot of the tail.  They don't need to bring their tails out of the water like their blow holes, so it doesn't happen near as often, and when it does, it's quick.  I heard many sighs of exasperated, "Missed it!" every time a tail popped out from my fellow passengers.  I did manage to get a couple good tail shots, one here of the upper side of the tail:

And another of the underside, the hardest of all:  

I also discovered that the blowhole is actually holes.  They are more like two slits, as you can see here:

Which is why the blow hole spray is actually V shaped, like this:

We also snapped a few pictures of us.  We were trying to get a whale in the background with us, but were somewhat less than successful.  Here's Daniel:

On mine in the right hand corner, you can see the whale "footprint" the big oval shaped ring they leave after they dive under, so we just missed it:

They were just so fast, the only good way to capture them was video.  Here's a link to a short one of the fighting pod:

From 2011-10-24 Whale Watching

Toward the end we came upon a mom, calf, and escort, which is a nice way of saying a male that is trying to get busy with mom.  The calf sticks to mom like glue, though, so it makes things a bit difficult.  The male kept scooping up the calf and tossing it to the side, which doesn't actually hurt it.  He did get a little irritated with the persistent calf at one point and slap a fin at it, which I managed to catch.

It was definitely a cool trip, and I managed to get my first sunburn.  I had gotten kind of lazy with the sunscreen because I had't burned yet, or really even tanned much.  Well, that will teach me.  

1 comment:

  1. That's just super cool. Worth the money, and what great pictures! You can sell your tail shots (that doesn't sound right). The whole nursing thing would have been interesting for humans; I can just see myself walking through the living room, William and Claire crawling behind me, and saying "hey, just follow Mom and catch the milk trail on your own."