Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Whale Watching Outside Sydney Harbour

Mickey and I have recently visited a couple of prime whale watching destinations: Western Australia and Hervey Bay. Sadly for the former aspiring marine biologist in me, we were there out of season and didn't catch sight of migrating whales.

Katie and Becca waiting for our boat at Circular Quay

Katie and Becca's visit to Sydney, however, presented the perfect opportunity to spot some whales just outside the harbour. Katie scored some coupons and generously paid for the four of us girls to hop on the Discovery Whale Watching Tour. It departed a little after 10am on a spectacularly clear, sunny day from Circular Quay. We grabbed seats on the top level of the three-story boat and enjoyed the sun and fresh air as we motored beyond the Opera House, past the heads and out into the open ocean.

The kind lady at the ticket booth advised that our chances of seeing whales was quite good because the boats had been spotting them for several days straight and the company tracks the whales overnight via radar. Fortunately, if we didn't see whales, we would be allowed to take another chance on the Discovery Tour later in the season. I was reluctant to get my hopes up, but pretty satisfied with this guarantee.

Our boat wasn't in the open ocean for ten minutes before we spotted the first couple of sprays from blowholes along the horizon. We approached a group of whales and then followed them for the remainder of the two hour tour. The experts with the microphone explained that we were following a "competition pod," a group of presumably adult males pushing each other while jockeying for position as the top dog, er... whale.

Dorsal fins

The experts couldn't explain the whales' behavior with certainty, but the whales in the competition pod sure put on a show. There were four of them in the group that literally pushed up against one another and aggressively raised their heads and fins out of the water and smacked them down again.

To my delight and astonishment, the whales got really close to our boat. It is against the rules to get any closer to the whales than 100 meters, but if they approach your boat, you're meant to just stay there and let them do their thing until they move along. We were the biggest, but certainly not the only boat following that active pod. Much smaller boats (practically dinghies) broke the rules by getting too close to the whales and were lucky that they weren't accidentally capsized or killed. The whales don't know the rules after all.

Because the whales were so busy that morning, I began to hope that I might see one breach clear out of the water. I'd seen clips on the news of whale watching boats getting such a treat, but dared not hope for it until it started looking not just possible but even likely.

One of the whales turned on his side and began smacking his two meter long pectoral fin onto the surface of the water over and over again. We were so close to the whale that we could clearly hear the noise of the smack on the water. I felt like we were watching a Sea World show, but it's likely that the whale was sending a message to the three others in his pod, not us gawkers on the boat.

Indeed, the whales had something to express because not long after the fin smacking, another whale (or maybe it was the same show-off) breached! I couldn't believe our good luck. Watching the enormous humpback whale lunge clear out of the water was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen (I'm turning into such a nature geek as I age). Mom, Katie, Becca and I all squealed with delight and amazement. We had seen a whale breach; that alone would have been worth the $80 tour cost.

So, you can imagine how we felt when the whale decided to breach again. Yes, it was just icing on the cake at that point.
Mom and me on the top deck of the boat

As we motored back to shore, Mom excitedly began to plan another whale watching trip with her friend Roxanne. I had no interest in going again, though. The naughty whales in the competition pod had spoiled me with their boisterous show; I'm sure I'll never be that lucky on future whale watching trips and am happy to cement this one firmly in my memory.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Looks like you got a great view from the top deck of the boat and you got to see a great show too! Yea!