Conservationists come in all shapes and sizes and ages. Think Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough. Keith Reid, a former fish and chipper and now owner/skipper of Freedom Whale Watch loves the magnificent whales that holiday here at Hervey Bay each year.
He shares his knowledge and stories that come from years of showing off the humpbacks to holidaymakers. Cruising the deep blue of Platypus Bay daily, Keith has perfected his patter. Against the changing backdrop of the world’s largest sand island K’Gari (Fraser Island), Keith says we’re off to chase rainbows. (When whales clear their nostrils or blow – the sneeze creates little rainbows). Whale-watching can be like that because it’s the humpbacks that call the shots. And you never, ever know if there will be a pot of gold at the end.
On their annual migration north, humpbacks don’t drop into Hervey Bay. Instead, they travel east of K’gari. But on their return journey, they take some time to relax and let their babies fatten up in the calm, warm waters of the bay. Hervey Bay is not a mere pitstop on this whale superhighway. Nor is it a mere whaleway station. (No more whale puns – I promise).
Freedom III is 17.7 m of pure cruising comfort with three 360 degree viewing levels. Freedom Whale Watch tours start in July and usually finish the third week of October when the last of the humpbacks leave the Great Sandy Strait.
The weather changes rapidly as we spot our first breaching beauties off in the distance. Clear blue skies are quickly replaced by some welcome cloud cover as all guests keenly scan the bay. The skipper listens for radio updates while keeping his eyes trained on the horizon. We’ve polished off some of Keith’s profiteroles before we get close to our first mum and calf.
And the sun returns for the rest of the day keeping that teal blue water shimmering.
GET MUGGED BY A HUMPBACK
Luckily we seem to have happened on these two just as Mum is teaching breaching. The young calf gives it a whirl as the first of many choruses of ‘oohs and aahs’ begin. iPhones click endlessly as Keith lets us know it is unusual for an attentive mother to allow the calf between her and the boat. This female calf is still a paler shade of grey indicating she is only 10 or 12 weeks old. Mum is well practised in the art of ‘mugging’ (raising their head above water up close to watch the boat).
They take a break from their contortions probably for a feed. Mum stays submerged while the baby comes up for air every few minutes. Skipper lets us know that baby humpbacks can drink as much as 600 litres a day of the yoghurt like, super-rich milk that is 40% to 60% fat. They need to build a thick layer of blubber before arriving in the Antarctic feeding grounds. Lunch sounds like a good idea for us too.
Hervey Bay is THE place for whale watching in Queensland. These mammoths from the deep stay here a while virtually guaranteeing a close encounter. The Great Sandy Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ideal for both humpbacks and humans at this time of year.
Last year, Hervey Bay was named the world’s first Whale Heritage Site by the World Cetacean Alliance.
Well-fed, we start chasing rainbows again and find another mother, calf and ’nana’ having a bit of a frolic. (It was once thought that the chaperone was always exclusively female but there are also ‘male escorts’). Still more breaches and waving as we edge closer on the Freedom III. It’s another fabulous show. Everyone on board is beginning to realise how lucky we are to see so much activity in one day. It’s fruit and cheese for afternoon tea and for some an early afternoon glass of bubbles.
We’re about to start our way home when …
LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT ME.
Next, Keith spots the third part of the Holy Grail of whale-watching; large bulls in hot pursuit of an available female. Seven massive males on a mission move fast and Keith is doing an excellent job keeping up as they twist, turn and rapidly change course. Bulls can grow to 16-18 metres in length. At times this seems more like a scrum than an attempt at courtship.
Keith calls time and we head towards the Hervey Bay Marina. There have been so many whales we are arriving home 90 minutes late. A day filled with unforgettable moments. We couldn’t have asked for more.
DISCLAIMER: This Magnificent Life were guests of Freedom Whale Watch – but we really did have a whale of a time.
Find out more about the Hervey Bay whale watching season and the incredible Fraser Coast here
This Magnificent Life acknowledges the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and the traditional custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work.