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Humpback Whale Watching

What's so special about Hervey Bay?

Having previously been to Kaikoura in New Zealand's south island and - dare I say it - been a little disappointed with the whale watching there, Hervey Bay stood out as being special for two reasons.

Firstly, the type of whale. Humpback whales are well known as being the most active and playful type of whale - considerably more so than the Sperm Whales we'd seen in NZ.

Secondly, around 8,000 humpbacks make the annual migration of up to 25,000 km from the Antarctic to warmer waters and back - and about a third of those stop in the waters of Hervey Bay to rest up between July and November

We were told that the waters off the Fraser Coast are actually the only stopping off point in the southern hemisphere.

A bit about Humpbacks

Humpbacks are big mammals, with adults growing to between 12 and 16 metres in length and weighing up to 36,000kg (36 tonnes). That's around 450 times as heavy as the average human male!

Even the whale calves are big - weighing as much as two to three tonnes when they are born, and consuming up to 600 litres of milk a day.

The big numbers don't stop there either. Humpback Whales live on a diet of small fish and krill and can eat up to a tonne of this each day.

Perhaps this is less surprising when you realise that they only eat in the cooler waters in summer and fast all winter in warmer waters, where they have migrated to give birth - instead living off their fat reserves.

It is estimated that there are now 30-60,000 Humpbacks worldwide. The population dropped by some 90% before the 1966 whaling moratorium, but is now recovering by 13% or so each year.

The trip

There are around 20 operators in the Hervey Bay region, but Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island offer a deal, so we went with that. Having been and seen what we did, it would be impossible to criticise the choice.

It's an early start, as the tour leaves resort reception at 07:40 and the boat departs at 08:00, heading up to Platypus Bay on the north western corner of the Fraser Island. The whales are guaranteed there and the trip takes about an hour.

At that time of the morning, and in the middle of August, it's chilly enough to take a fleece and waterproofs will help block out the breeze. The waters are calm on the way there though, as you stay inside the protection of the bay. It gets a little choppier as you reach the whales, so consider taking pills if you normally do.

When you see your first whales, it will blow your mind how close they come - pretty much within touching distance and often nudging up against the boat! There's certainly no need for the zoom lens here.

We saw several acrobatic breaches in the distance, but the whales were a bit lazier up close to the boat. We had the same three 'subs' (young adult males) playing and having fun with us for the entire two hours! You catch their attention by waving, cheering and clapping, but if they stay near the boat, you can't start the engines to move off and find any others.

A special mention for Collette

While we were in Noosa, the story broke about the baby Humpback Colin (later renamed Colette when it was found to be female), who was trapped in Sydney harbour and eventually put down. It was quite sad to see such majestic animals up close and feel that more could perhaps have been done to save it.


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