WATER BALLET: A whale cruises in close to the boat to take a closer look at the fascinating humans on the viewing platform.
WATER BALLET: A whale cruises in close to the boat to take a closer look at the fascinating humans on the viewing platform. JANINE HILL

Whales put on a great performance

WE were barely 30 minutes out of Hervey Bay when the whales starting watching us.

Our skipper had alerted us over the boat's PA system that we were close to some whales.

But while we novices aboard the Spirit of Hervey Bay desperately scanned the water a couple of hundred metres away for a splash, a slide of black across the flat blue that would be our first whale sighting, the whales slipped in beside the boat to check us out first.

Whale watching had become whales watching us.

First two, then three.

They glided just under the surface, seeming so close sometimes that viewers on the water-level viewing platform that was quickly lowered might have been tempted to reach out and touch their shiny black backs, or tickle the pale undersides that they occasionally rolled and flashed at us. Fore and aft, port and starboard. Passengers crossed from side to side, end to end, as the whales frolicked around the boat like playful puppies around a child.

Under Queensland law, boat operators are not allowed to approach within 100m of a whale.

But when the whales approach you, well, there is not much you can do. Our skipper cut the engines and we drifted, enjoying their company while it lasted.

At times they dived deep, turning into shadows in the green-blue water before disappearing into the darkness of the deep. Conversations about holidays and grandchildren were forgotten and a silence fell over the boat every time as all aboard waited for their reappearance.

Underwater viewing rooms offered a chance to glimpse the whales from below but it was difficult to time a visit the way our busy trio were moving.

But on the open top deck, the highest of the five viewing areas, it was easy to scramble the length and breadth of the boat to follow their games.

Sometimes we heard them before we saw them as they burst through the surface, leering up with one big eye out of the water to have a better look at us.

Juveniles, these funsters were, apparently an age group renowned for being a bit cheeky during this August-September phase of the humpbacks' migration. Twenty minutes they might have been there. Maybe half an hour. I lost track of time.

When our new-found friends grew bored and left, our skipper took us in search of more.

One of the advantages of being on one of the larger whale watching boats, apart from morning tea of still-warm bun loaf, is speed, which meant that it was not long before we were close to another pod, although these were not terribly interested in us.

I began to wonder if we had seen our last whales of the day when there it was in front of us, a whale tail. Every 10 seconds, the tail slapped the water, which is thought to be the way whales call for company. Unfortunately, it did not produce results. But something was splashing in the distance, and when nobody voiced an objection to being in to port late, our skipper gunned the engines for one last look.

We were not disappointed.

Two whales put on a show, surfacing, breaching and popping up out of the water to look at us in unison - a rare thing, apparently. We were back at Urangan 20 or 30 minutes late but it had been well worth it and if was not for a lunch date, I would have been tempted to do it all again in the afternoon.

The writer was a guest of Tourism Queensland.


http://www.spiritofherveybay.com/, phone 1800 642 544.

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