Monday 1 June 2009

On The Whale Trail In Hervey Bay

It’s not often that tourists will boast about being mugged on their vacation, but it’s a badge of pride for Hervey Bay holiday-makers, especially when their mugger is a forty-tonne humpback and ‘a successful mugging’ means a humpback has been curious enough to glide up to their whale watch boat for an extended look.

Hervey Bay’s whale watch season runs from 1 August til the end of October with some of the most prolific whale spotting this side of the east coast. Invariably during the season inquisitive humpbacks, referred to as ‘friendlies’, will approach whale-watching boats very closely, often staying under or near the boat for many minutes.

Their natural curiosity, along with breaching and surface behaviours including tail and fin slaps and spy hops, helped spawn the region’s whale watching industry back in 1987.

During this year’s season, in a meeting of like minds, Kingfisher Bay eco resort has teamed with the pioneers of the industry, Brian and Jill Perry, to run eco-accredited excursions direct from Fraser Island through the calm waters of the Great Sandy Strait, just north of the resort.

Tracking and staying with a whale is an acquired skill and Skipper Brian is happy to put his 23 years experience into action in the quest to give Kingfisher guests a ‘whale of a time’ aboard his much-lauded QuickCat II vessel.

In the early days Brian used his mate’s plane to spot whales from the air and – in an age where there were no mobile phones to boat radio – the plane would drop toilet rolls for the boat to follow.

In 1989 Hervey Bay’s whale-rich waters were declared a marine park to protect its natural resources; these days Hervey Bay is the whale watch capital of Australia and maritime law sets a 100-metre exclusion zone on tourist boats approaching whales.

Then, it is up to the whales.

Humpbacks are the most surface active of all the whales and Kingfisher Bay Resort’s Head Ranger Colin Anderson believes one of the most amazing developments, since the commencement of commercial whale watching in Hervey Bay, is the inquisitive Humpbacks’ desire to ‘socialise’ with the fleet.

“The humpback is a curious creature, and it’s really a beautiful thing when they come along side of the boats and display photo-worthy surface behaviours,” he said.

“It’s a jaw-dropping experience to have this huge creatures swimming around and around, often ‘mugging’ boats for a closer look at the whale watchers on board.”

Half-day trips depart daily from Kingfisher Bay Resort from 8am during the season (August 1 until 31 October). Tickets are priced at $100 for adults and $55 for kids aged 4-14. Each ticket sold includes a levy which assists local marine park management, education, ranger patrols, whale monitoring and research.

For more information or 1800 072 55.

Editor’s Note:
The Humpback is the most active of all the great whales. Typical surface behaviours include:

Spy hop – occurs when the whale rises vertically in the water with their eyes just out of the water. The whale maintains this position for a while, before slipping beneath the surface,

Blow – A distinctive vapour cloud visible above the surface, caused by the Humpback exhaling through its two blow holes.

Head Lunge – The whale’s knobbly head breaks the surface and the mammal falls forward into the water.

Foot print - When a whale dives, the up-thrust of its tail drives water toward the surface. On the surface this can be seen as a round, calm area of flat water, known as a whale's footprint.

Pectoral slap – The humpback has a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins. During the pectoral slap, the whale rolls onto its side and slaps its fin against the side of the water.

Breach – This happens when a whale propels two-thirds of its stocky body out of the water – then falls back with an almighty splash. Often times the whale can clear two-thirds of its considerable body out of the water.

Peduncle slap – This is a forceful move where the peduncle (area from the dorsal fin to the tail) and flukes are thrown out of the water and slapped back down.

Tail Slap – Occurs when the body of the whale is submerged and the tail slaps against the surface.

Fluke Up – If the flukes are high above the surface this usually signifies a deep dive.

Round Arch – This happens when the whale rises to the surface and arches its back - the dorsal fine and humpback are clearly visible.

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