Hervey Bay is one of the top spots worldwide to go whale watching. Humpback whales use Hervey Bay as their playground when they take a brake on their journey from Great Barrier Reef to Antarctica. In the last week of August 2019, we set sail on board of The Spirit to spot the whales. An experience we will never forget.

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It’s 8.30am when we go on board of The Spirit of Hervey Bay for a 4.5 hour whale watching cruise. Although there is no best time of the day to go whale watching, the calm waves of the morning sea make it easier to spot whales. The boat itself is equipped with 6 viewing decks and underwater windows which should make it easier to spot the whales.

The Spirit

While we set sail for open water, a group of Australian Pelicans guard the harbor entrance. Australian Pelicans often group together as they prefer to feed as a cooperative group. Together they are able to drive fish into a concentrated mass. Then the fish are herded into shallow water or surrounded in ever decreasing circles. This makes it a lot easier for the pelicans to feed.

The calm waves of the morning sea make it easier to spot the whales

An Australian Pelican lands in the calm waters of Hervey Bay’s harbor

It won’t take long before we have our first whale encounter. Within an hour after we left the harbor we see a pod of Humpback Whales spouting water in the distance. Apparently the whales are as curious as we are. While we set sail to the whales, the whales swim towards us.

A Humpback Whale spouting water

In the meantime, the captain explains why Hervey Bay is a great place to go whale watching. “Every year, the whales make their way from Antarctica all the way up to Great Barrier Reef. They breed there and raise their calves in the warm tropical waters. During their migration they use the Australian coastline as navigation” the captain says. “On their way back down, they follow the land on their right handside, until they come into this back bay. It is like a funnel effect. They can’t go down between the mainland and Fraser Island. So they will be here for a while before they get back to the top and head down southway. Some of them eventually have, after anywhere between 6 to 8 months of traveling, completed more than 12.000 kilometers during their migration”, explains the captain.

Some whales travel more than 12.000 kilometers during their annual migration between Great Barrier Reef and Antarctica

The whales with their new born calves visit Hervey Bay between August and October on their way to Antarctica. “In the arctic ocean waters, the calves will die. It’s too cold. They don’t have enough blubber” the captain says. Whales use blubber as an insulation layer to keep warm while they dive to cool depths or travel to cold waters. The blubber is essential to be able to survive the cold, according to the captain. “So the mother feeds them up. They will spend a few weeks feeding, playing and relaxing before they head south to colder waters”, the captain says.

The whales will spend a few weeks feeding, playing and relaxing in Hervey Bay before they head south to colder waters

We are coming closer to the whales. “That’s a Head Lunge manouvre” The captain says enthausiastically. A whale just jumped out of the water and falls forward back in. Humpback Whales are often called the star of the oceans, as they display various types of amazing physical behaviour when they surface. “That’s a twisted breaching manouvre“, tells the captain. The show is very impressive.

A Humpback Whale starting a twisted breaching manouvre in Hervey Bay.

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Now they approach the boat as close as a couple of meters. The sighting is magnificent as they rise from underwater to the surface to “say hello”, spouting a fountain, and then dive back under. Humpback Whales are well known for their curiosity and friendliness. They say a Humback whale even saved a diver from a shark one day.

The sightning is magnificent as they rise from underwater to the surface to “say hello”, spouting a fountain, and then dive back under

Two Humpback Whales approached The Spirit out of curiosity

Then the whales suddenly disappear. “We don’t pick up their signals anymore, which means they dive deeper” the captain says. “It might take a while before they come back up again, so let’s see what else we can spot today”, he continues. In the far distance we see multiple pods breaching and spouting water. While we set sail to them, even some dolphins show up on the surface.

When we move closer to the whale pods we get to see a show we will never forget. Two little fishing boats attracted a curious whale. The whale is now spy hopping inbetween them. Spy hopping is when the whale puts his head out of the water to take a look around, checking surface activity. Then the whale moves his giant body just centimeters from one of the boat, eventually even touching it. “Normally they never touch a boat, I have never seen this before”, the captain tells us.

Normally they never touch a boat, I have never seen this before – the captain tells us

A Humpback Whale spy hopping a little boat.

We try to move closer, but our huge 6-deck boat scares the whale and he disappears. As a final goodbye, he lifts his tail high above the water before reaching for the ocean’s depth. It’s called a fluke up dive. On the location where the whale just dove under a big circle is visible on the surface. The circle stays visible for quite a while. From the captain we learn that it’s called a whale’s “footprint“.

A Humpback Whale performing a fluke up dive before disappearing into the ocean
Footprint” of a whale

Unfortunately, we run out of time and we start sailing back to the harbour. This time we follow the coastline of Fraser Island. The view of its bright sand beaches, tropical forests and clear blue waters surrounding make it look very tempting. We will definitely visit Fraser Island later during our stay in Australia

Approaching Fraser Island
Approaching Fraser Island

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On our way back we encounter many fishing birds including Australian Pelicans, Little Black Cormorants, Little Pied Cormorants and Intermediate Egrets. The most remarkable one was the Little Black Cormorant sitting proudly on top of a sign while we arrived back in Hervey Bay’s harbor.

Little Black Cormorant in Hervey Bay’s harbor
A last tribute to the whales 🙂