Thar they blows!

A friend visiting from the Big Smoke is always an excuse to throw down the work computer (not literally, of course) and do a bit of sight-seeing. Enticed by the perfect winter weather (23C/73F and gloriously sunny), we headed for the coastal headlands to see what we could see.

At present it’s whale-migration time and something like 1200 humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae) are travelling north along the east coast for the females to calve in warm water, some already turning around to go back to the feeding grounds in Antarctica with their calves.

The usual sign is a puff of breath on the water – they surface, breath out explosively, then breathe in and submerge.

Smoke on the water? Humpback breathing out via its blowhole; photo by Kathy Pearce

You can just see the dorsal fin below as the whale gently submerges.

Humpback submerging after a breath; photo by Kathy Pearce

You can sometimes see a disturbance as they splash about, waving one flipper high in the air, then crashing it down onto the surface. The next shot was the aftermath of that.

Aftermath of humpback raising a flipper and splashing it down; photo by Kathy Pearce

The last shot is what every whalewatcher wants to see, only closer.

Hail, fellow, well met – humpback breaching; photo by Kathy Pearce

You can see closer shots here. I was once thrilled to see breaching much, much closer when a couple of humpbacks approached our National Parks daytrip boat out of Narooma, south of Sydney. We were treated to a good hour of breaching and general cavorting, and even mating (even the ranger had never seen such a huge penis – it looked several metres long). I don’t know what the whales were singing, but we humans were screaming with excitement and joy. Twenty-five bikers in full leathers leaping around like madmen/women (it was a motorcycle touring club excursion).

At one point, one of the whales swam straight at the rear of the boat from astern, and swam right underneath to emerge at the front – awesome! I got a brief sense of what the old-fashioned whalers in their little boats with little oars and little harpoons might have felt like, face-to-face with such a giant. At least the fight was a bit fairer back then.

Byron Bay was once a whaling town – now it’s a tourist town. And the whales are bringing in far more money alive than dead.

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2 Responses to Thar they blows!

  1. Rebecca says:

    Wow! I saw some humpbacks off the coast of California next summer, including one great look straight down on one surfacing at the base of the cliff we were on top of, but never any breaches. Very cool.

  2. Pingback: Having a whale of a time at Woody | A-roving I will go

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