By Mike Barrow
“There she blows” I cry,“off the starboard bow about 500 metres.” I do my best impression of Captain Ahab spotting Moby Dick. But this isn’t a white whale but a Humpback. It’s migrating north from its Antarctic breeding grounds. The whales hug the Eastcoast and end their journey in the warmer Queensland waters of Hervey Bay and the Whitsundays. Over 1500 kilometres north. Sydney has become a whale watching mecca of this region. We will be fortunate enough to see them again on their southern migration. All this occurs between May and November every year.
I’m on board a dedicated whale watching vessel with Oz Whalewatching, a Sydney based tour operator. It’s a warm and bright Sydney winter’s day. The boat has just passed through Sydney Heads and today we were in luck. We spot our quarry almost immediately. The whale blows as it surfaces sending a plume of water into the air. It takes a breath, rolls forward and arches before it dives again. We are in its path but hold our position. Each time it surfaces it gets a little closer to our boat. We lose sight of the whale and then it appears on the otherside of our boat. It glided effortlessly, majestically below us, like a submarine easing through the water.
Cassie, our Canadian marine biologist, has studied whales for four years in Australia and keeps a record of whale numbers passing north. “The numbers are on the increase each year” she informs us. Once hunted nearly to extinction for their blubber and oil, these giants of the deep are now a lucrative tourism business. “We also see dolphins and seals fairly regularly” continues Cassie. As we head back to Sydney, our count is seven Humpback whales, a pod of dolphins, a New Zealand fur seal and a black browsed Albatross. With an excellent BBQ lunch and expert commentary from our dedicated crew, this is a great way to experience whalewatching in Sydney.
Whales can also be viewed from vantage points along the Sydney coastline.
The best locations to see them are:
North Head. Bus to Manly and walk to North Head National Park.
South Head. Bus or ferry to Watsons Bay and walk to South Head National Park.
Long Reef headland on Sydney’s northern beaches.
Royal National Park (hire car required).
What whales do:
Arching is when Humpbacks arch or hump their backs out of the water before they dive.
Blowing is when whales surface and breath. They send a spout of water into the air. This is the easiest way to spot them.
Fluke slapping is also known as smacking. Whales slap the water with their pectoral fin. It is believed this is a form of communication.
Spy hopping is when whales come and take a look out of the water. They stand on their tails and pop their head up.
Breaching is really dramatic. The whales launch themselves out of the water and crash back down with a massive splash.
Who to catch a ride with:
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