Probably not the nicest words to hear when you’re about to depart on a boat trip out to sea but at the same time a little bit exciting. This was the skipper of the ‘Whalesong’ boat talking about how many sharks inhabit the waters around Hervey Bay and Fraser Island and although it wasn’t great to think about the boat sinking, it was interesting to know that there really was a lot of sharks out there. After reading my shark attack book I’ve learnt a lot about them and so to see them would have been amazing, especially Great Whites, Tiger and Bull sharks which live around here. Of course, it’s rare to see them off a boat but I was optimistic anyway as a Great White had been spotted not so long ago.
Anyway, before we arrived at this stage of the trip, a few other things happened with the first being our collection by the courtesy bus. According to the woman at tourist information, we were going to be picked up at 11:15 outside The Friendly Hostel before being taken to the dock. The bus, however, was 10 minutes late and me being me had decided they’d forgotten about us and were probably already on their way out to whale watch. Not an overreaction in the slightest. Eventually (a whole ten minutes later) they turned up and we got on board and took our seats near the back. Time for the next worry-not getting to sit at the front of the boat. I know that there was room for everybody and that I’d probably see everything still even if I wasn’t at the front but that still didn’t stop me creeping forward and walking as fast as I could to where the boat was docked. I wonder who’s fault that is, dad?
We had to wait for a little while before getting on the boat and so in between the anxiety of possibly not getting to the front and worrying that I’d left something behind, we watched the shoals of fish in the harbour being fed. One of the boat crew was throwing bits of bread in to the water and some pretty big fish were circling it and sucking it up. The best bit was the teeny tiny pufferfish just swimming around the surface nibbling on bits before the bigger fish ate it. If a fish could look sad, I’m sure the pufferfish was distraught but continued swimming around in circles. Soon it was time to board and after letting some old women on first, it would have been a bit mean not to, we made it to the front and in my opinion, got the best seats. I was sat at the front but on the corner so I had the option of two angles (very thought through!) if anything was to be spotted. There was a nice Australian family next to us who had the same camera as us and so she spoke to us for a while about the different lenses we have and the ones we want. The woman seemed so excited about the trip and kept pacing up and down, making jokes but she didn’t seem too bothered about where she was sat which puzzled me.
After a brief safety announcement including the bit about the sharks, it was time to leave the harbour and set out on the search for whales. As we passed various other boats, cormorants spread their wings to dry them in the hot sun and seagulls squawked overhead. Being in the sea is one of my favourite things ever as I think marine life is so interesting and different and so I was really looking forward to this. We spent a while standing up looking for things and saw a juvenile marlin leaping out of the water and skimming the surface right in front of us. The annoying thing was, we didn’t have our cameras ready and thought we’d never get the photo in time but it just carried on going and as soon as I was about to take it, it then disappeared! Undeterred we carried on looking for things and saw the huge, dark shadowy shape of green turtle bobbing along. Now I did manage to get a photo of this; it’s really just a dark blob in the water but it definitely is a turtle.
Not too long after this the skipper announced that there were two dolphins just ahead, a mother and calf Indo-Pacific bottlenose. I saw the fins quite far out to begin with but suddenly they popped up alongside the boat so close to us. As this was a fairly young calf, the mother was clearly a little bit apprehensive about getting too close and the whole encounter would only have been about 5 minutes if that before they quietly slipped away. It was amazing to see them so in such clear water though, swimming so slowly that even in that short space of time, you really got to see them properly.
A drifting crab and another marlin later, it was time for the lunch buffet. I didn’t want to leave the deck and miss out on anything, especially after the dolphins, so Codie went in to eat and came out with a ham sandwich. I was prepared to miss it all together so that was a tasty surprise. As you weren’t allowed to eat on the deck though, I had to quickly rush inside and eat it so didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have. When I went back out we saw some birds hovering in the distance and some splashing just below them. It didn’t look like much and nobody else was paying any attention but after the many crossings between Portsmouth and Bilbao watching for whales, it seemed quite familiar. I took a quick photo and zoomed in to see and there were little fins breaking the surface. More dolphins! They were really far out though and no-one was announcing where they were so we passed them and moved on further.
When we reached the outskirts of Platybus Bay, we were all told to keep an eye out for whales and their plumes of spray. It’s here that humpback whales congregate and have a play during their annual migration so there was a good chance we’d get to see some. To be honest, I wasn’t the most optimistic about this as the other tour operators had cancelled their whale watching trips a few days before due to there not being any whales. If their boats are mainly for the whale trips, then surely if there was any chance of seeing them at all they’d go out still? I continued looking though as animals are unpredictable so you never know! Again we saw some birds and some splashing and again the boat moved on so I thought it was nothing until a shout came that two whales had been spotted near to there. The boat was spun around and soon we came across a mother and calf logging in the water. They were both lying on the surface having a little rest in between the many calf feeds and playing. The boat stopped and we drifted for a while, quietly watching them as they drifted themselves. A hydrophone was lowered into the water to see if we could hear any of their vocalisations but there were quiet. It was lovely to see them relaxing even more so considering I wasn’t really expecting to see any but we left a little while later in search of more active whales. There were some dolphins out in the distance and a few whale blows but they were a little bit too far away and left soon after.
On the way, a dolphin leapt out of the water in front of us but it swam away past us quite quickly. Another one suddenly appeared and swam towards the boat before bow riding and flipping on to it’s back. This is why being at the front was a good idea as it meant that we had such a good view of it and I was able to get some quite good photographs of it leaping out of the water. That was of course in between avoiding peoples feet as they were standing on the seats and sticking their toes through the railings right next to my camera. It wasn’t particularly nice as they kept shoving me to get more people on the seat and since I’d been at the front since the beginning, I wasn’t moving! I didn’t want to waste time being annoyed though as it was too good an opportunity to miss and it could have ended at any time. About 50 metres off the left side of the boat, a load of fish leapt out of the water and were really throwing themselves about. Apparently these were tuna and it was strange to see them so animated (and not in a tin!) When we got back to the hostel, I had a look at why they jump and apparently they just do sometimes yet you can’t help but wonder whether there was a shark underneath the water chasing them…
After quite a while, the dolphin eventually left the bow and we carried on in search of whales. After about 10 minutes, there was a splash in front of us. It was really quite far away but it was clear that this was a little whale breaching again and again. The boat slowed down so as not to disturb it but it jumped closer and closer until it wasn’t that far away at all. Everybody was so absorbed in watching the calf, we didn’t notice how close the mother was so it was quite a shock when she popped up about 50 metres from us! All of a sudden the calf wen quiet and it looked as though it was time for it’s feed so we left in search of two others which had been spotted behind us. Just like the first two, these were also logging on the surface but were a lot more aware of us and drifted away quite quickly. This particular calf was a lot smaller than the previous two so it’s mother was perhaps a little bit more cautious of it being frightened. They didn’t go too far as though they were still curious and remained fairly close so we still managed to get a good look at them. It was nice to see calves at different stages of their lives too and quite strange to think about all the challenges they were facing then and would do in the future.
The breaching calf began leaping all over again so the skipper headed back over there. This time it seemed a little bit braver and both the mother and the calf came a lot closer to the boat, both putting on displays. Whilst the calf was flinging itself around, the large whale lifted her fluke out of the water and slapped it repeatedly on the surface making such a loud noise and sending huge ripples out around her. I know that tail slapping can either be a sign of playfulness or aggression so I was quite aware that she could be doing it out of fear but they were approaching us and not the other way around so I’m pretty sure they were just playing. Their performance went on for ages and it gave me a chance to practice taking photographs of them and predicting where they were likely to pop up again. As you can imagine, it was quite a challenge as you couldn’t see them under the water but after a little bit of practice it got a lot easier! At one point, the calf joined in with it’s mother slapping it’s tail on the surface which was nice to see but all to soon we had to leave them and head back to the harbour.
For a 5 hour trip from 12:00-17:00 , the time went really slowly and at no point at all did it seem to rush which was great. There was no panic about not seeing anything or any thinking that the trip was dragging either which is always good! Most people went inside on the trip back as it started to get a bit nippy but we stayed out on the deck (at the front of course) just in case we saw anything else. Animal wise nothing appeared but we got a good look at the west coast of Fraser Island; I’m really looking forward to going now as it really does look like an adventure island.
Once we’d docked and everyone had clambered off and made our way back to the courtesy bus. We did have to remember to give the safety card that we’d been given and the beginning back or we’d have left with it in Codie’s back. More things to carry but at least we’d have been very knowledgable about safety at sea! I’d definitely recommend a trip with Whalesong but perhaps when there are more whales about. It was an amazing experience even at the end of the whale season but I imagine it’d be even better right in the middle of it. I’ve seen quite a few whales and dolphins before but the ones we saw on this trip were new species to see and something I won’t forget!