Gentle Giants – The Humpback Whales of Hervey Bay   18 comments

At last after what seemed like years of anticipation and days of traveling we were off on our first proper adventure.

 

Up early at just after 6am to finish packing and be ready for our pick up. Gave me a chance to look out on a sunrise fringed with dark, stormy clouds and wet roofs of the hotel below

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

Whale Watching in Hervey Bay is big business between late July and October and the number of tours and excursions is dazzling. The majority of trips are half day on large fast moving boats with lots of people. We wanted something a little more personal and after some research we came up with Blue Dolphin Marine Tours.

Run by the friendly Peter and Jodie it proved to be a superb choice. Their trip is on a smaller catamaran with only about 15-20 people. It’s a slower voyage but an all day trip with lunch which suited us better. What set them apart was not only their friendly and accommodating approach but their sheer knowledge and passion which was evident from the moment we stepped on board. You can find my TripAdvisor review here

We settled in and had a hot cuppa as the boat headed out into the bay.

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

It was a cool and windy morning with the promise of showers and a bouncy ride but we all enjoyed the voyage as we crossed the bay and headed up the west coast of Fraser Island towards Platypus Bay where the whales hang out. It takes an hour or so to get there and we were overtaken by a couple of the faster boats and their crowds of people but the views of the coast, dolphins and rainbows over the bay more than made up that and it was great to be out on the ocean with the anticipation building.

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

We saw a boat ahead us that was clearly stationery and then we saw the first splashes – there be whales!

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

These were distant views and this pod seemed a little reclusive. We waited and gently followed their movements but they always seemed to be moving away. Perhaps this was as close as were going to get?

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

Peter assured us that patience was the key and that the other boat had been a little too pushy in trying to get them to put on a show. “There are whales and there are good whales” he said and we looked elsewhere. Perhaps a kilometere away was another small boat that had also been sitting in the same spot for a while. The splashes told us that they had some whales of their own and we headed over to take a look.

And here was the thing. As we approached you could see, and sense, that they were heading our way. They were coming over to take a look at US!

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

And then the show began. For the next 2-3 hours this pod of 4 whales rolled, spouted, tail-slapped, breached and cruised around the boat.

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

They are the most extraordinary creatures, huge in bulk yet with a sense of calm gentleness completely out of step with their size. There seems to be absolutely no reason for why they do this for us tourists in our boats than they enjoy it. These were no longer distant glimpses but close encounters.

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

They would cruise right by the side of the boat and pop out of the water closer enough that you almost touch them. Often they would blow water through their spout and you get soaked by the spray. Magical. I believe the local term for this is “mugging”. I’ve heard this phrase before and it seems completely apt but you do wonder who is watching who!

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

It’s hard to describe in words just what an experience it is to watch such a large, rare and intelligent creature up close. It’s difficult to imagine that these behemoths of the ocean live exclusively on tiny shrimps called krill.

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

As the whales appeared and disappeared we all ran from one side to another, front to back watching their graceful movements (including one dash to the top of the boat when the waves rolled that almost caused me to fall in!). Even with choppy waves the water is so clear that you can seen them swimming several meters beneath the surface.

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

A word here for Peter and Jodie who run the tour. I mentioned above that their enthusiasm and knowledge is amazing. Peter controls the boat and knows his stuff, a fascinating guy to talk to full of information bounded by that dry Aussie wit that characterises everyone we met in Queensland. Jodie acts as the host and what a job she does. Aside from catering to our every need with a regular supply of drinks and a cracking buffet lunch she joins us up on deck to watch the show with her guests. Watching her leap and run about the deck with excitement it’s hard to realise that they do this every day. It really does feel that this is their first time out as well as yours. The feeling is that this is not a commercial enterprise but a private outing that they have asked you to come along to. Seeing the whales with any excursion would have been amazing but the atmosphere created here transformed it into something special and very much more. Thank you both.

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

The show continued, broken only by a violent and heavy shower. And again while we sheltered, the whales stayed, as if waiting for us to come back out. Even at points where you thought perhaps they’d moved on, if you shouted and waved, back they came. This was not whale watching, this was whale interacting!

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

In amongst all the excitement, Peter shared with me a thought that has stuck in my head and probably will for ever more. We have pursued, hunted, barbarically slayed and generally persecuted these gentle giants of the oceans to the point of extinction for hundreds of years. Yet when we come out on our tourist boats to see them they still come over to take a look and enjoy the experience. I find that heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure.

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

Why do they like Hervey Bay so much – here’s an extract to explain all about them:

Humpback Whales belong to the group of whales known as rorquals, a group that includes the Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Bryde’s Whale, Sei Whale, and Minke Whale. Rorquals have two characteristics in common: dorsal fins on their backs, and ventral pleats running for the tip of the lower jaw to the navel area. They are characterized by the possession of baleen plates for sieving the krill upon which they feed. Humpback Whales are regular visitors to the coastal waters off southern Queensland. Each year, during winter, humpback whales migrate from Antarctic waters, pass through South Island New Zealand, to the warm waters of the tropics for calving.

Many humpback whales arrive in Hervey Bay from late July and remain until November when they begin their return to the southern ocean. Whale watching in Hervey Bay has become an important attraction for tourists and naturalists. In recent years visitors to Hervey Bay, from mid-July to early November, have discovered the awe inspiring experience of watching the majestic humpback whale, and their encounters with the whales on the waters of Hervey Bay have been unforgettable. These majestic creatures have made Hervey Bay a regular stop on their annual migration to Antarctica after giving others and calves are now relaxed and at home with the whale watching boats which carefully approach their playground, and the guaranteed sightings are counted as “an experience of a lifetime”. The humpbacks have made Hervey Bay their own, and as one of the most active and acrobatic of species they provide an awesome sight with their antics, including spectacular displays of breaching, tail flapping

Finally it was time to head home. Such was the bond between us and the whales they actually started following us for a few minutes – they didn’t want us to go!

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

I’d been a little concerned about taking a whole day trip but it simply flew by, over all too soon in fact. The cruise back to the Harbour was quiet as everyone was tired out, reflecting on a truly stunning day.

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

I chatted to Peter about his life and history and before I knew it we were back and shaking hands and exchanging heartfelt words of thanks and appreciation and one we will all never forget. On the rest of our trip we did some amazing things (as you’ll see!) and I often ask the family what was their favourite. The stock answer is of course “all of it” but when pushed, really pushed to name just one day, this is the one. I can’t give higher praise than that. The YouTube slideshow at the top also has some pretty good video shots of the whales. I don’t normally plug my slideshows (I create them for own benefit really and put them on You Tube and the blog as its easy and free) but in this case I really recommend you take a look as the video adds so much to memories. Hope you enjoy

We finished off the day in style with fish and chips eaten on the seafront watching the sun set.

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

whales, whale watching, humpback whales, hervey bay, blue dolphin marine tours, platypus bay, fraser island

What a truly amazing day and yet there was more, a lot more to come. Next stop Fraser Island

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18 responses to “Gentle Giants – The Humpback Whales of Hervey Bay

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  1. Incredible creatures, must be breathtaking to watch them so closely. You can feel the warmth of that evening light.

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    • Hi Geoff – WordPress seems to have forgotten who you are again – had to approve your comment 🙂
      They really are the most amazing creatures, to see them and interact with them so closely was fantastic – a stand out moment from a stand out holiday.
      Those photos may look warm but it was pretty chilly. It’s winter over there and as soon as the sun starts to go down the temperatures drop into single figures pretty quickly. It was a stunning sunset though and I was well pleased with that last photo and the ring of light although no idea how I did it!

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  2. Wow!

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  3. From the post title, I thought you were surely going to crowbar in some prog-rock.

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    • Eh, is there a band by that name? 🙂

      Gentle music for gentle giants

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      • Gentle Giant? I thought you’d have their entire back cataloge! I had a double compilation album which my Mum and Dad bought me one Christmas, back when I thought that music began and ended with Status Quo. It had all sorts of good stuff on it, Rory Gallagher and his ilk. Also ‘Man of the World’ by Fleetwood Mac coincidentally. And one cracking track by Gentle Giant. Sadly I can’t remember what it was called and all I can find in Youtube is the sort of overblown pompous piffle which gives Prog Rock a bad name.

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  4. How absolutely fantastic!

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    • Sure was! Everyone should go and see the whales, it should be mandatory and government subsidised 🙂
      The words and images still don’t do justice to the experience. One to treasure

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  5. absolutely brilliant 🙂

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  6. Fantastic, I loved the pictures! I’ve yet to see a whale, and it’s been on my list for a number of years. I’m hoping I can get to Alaska to see them some day. Your descriptions were great. Thanks for reminding me that I REALLY want to do this!

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    • This was the trip I was looking forward to on our visit to Australia and it far outstripped what I was hoping for. Amazing experience! Hope you get chance to see them up in Alaska and glad you enjoyed the write up 🙂

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  7. What awesome shots of the whales! What a great experience!

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  8. A really special day with these giants of the deep, memories to treasure for a lifetime

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