Whale Watching

Humpback whales

One thing you learn from whale watching: “Over there!” is the most useless phrase in the English language.

It’s especially useless when said whales have decided that, today of all days, they’re not in the mood to leap dramatically into the air and close their gaping maw around fountains of hapless fish, like you see in documentaries, and just want to drift by while half-heartedly waving their flukes in the air for anyone lucky enough to look in their general direction. With a telescope.

Does this mean it was a wasted trip? Not at all. Raised on the likes of Ecco the Dolphin, Free Willy (hurr hurr) and a whale song relaxation CD that in truth gave me a raging headache, I was happy to catch even a glimpse of these beautiful behemoths in their natural habitat. People talk about the possibility of intelligent alien life, but we haven’t even mastered interspecies communication on our own planet. And these animals, who clearly exchange information and songs between pods, are clever enough to know that not all humans will rip them asunder with harpoons, and that some are friendly or at the very least just want to sit and gawp at them. Communicating with a whale would be far more relevant and enlightening, and that’s why they are so fascinating to me. Even when they’re just a distant spray of water on the horizon, as they were on the sunniest day during my trip to Australia.

Our boat was a theme park ride that fancied a career change. The bow was nodding up and down on the water like a drinking bird, and that was before a solitary glass of wine, but this just added to the excitement as we hit the open sea beyond Sydney harbour. After passing a sea lion floating with one fin up, as if trying to flag us down, we happened upon a pod of humpback whales, likely a couple of adults and young hooligans, who signalled their existence with silvery geysers followed by what looked like a glimmer of sleek black rubber.

Humpback whales

Once or twice you would hear a wet clattering sound as one of them flapped their fluke on the surface, but apart from this, all you heard was the rush of the sea and the tour guide throwing quips and facts around like dazed fish. To make sure everyone saw something, he asked us to use clock hands when indicating directions rather than waving our arms around, and for the most part this worked. We spotted two pods of humpbacks and a more remote pod or two of smaller minke whales, so it was going swimmingly, if you’ll pardon the awful pun.

One thing did end up overboard, and that was the guide’s language. We weren’t the only boat out at sea that day; there were two other whale watching boats and a fishing vessel, and it took careful coordination to avoid scaring away the whales. You are only legally allowed within a certain distance of them, so when the smaller watching boat zipped in between ours and the nearest pod, the whales disappeared under the surface and emerged minutes later as even tinier blips on the horizon. This resulted in our guide angrily dialing the number of the other ship’s skipper and berating him over the telephone while his microphone was still hooked up. In all fairness, cutting in between a whale and a boat is a popular way of trolling the harpoonists, so perhaps the chap was simply practising, after all Australia are monitoring some of the waters while Japan conduct whaling “research”. I’ll leave you to decide if that’s a load of old blow hole.

Not long after, we heard flukes flapping again and our calmer guide said it was to warn other whales of an approaching ship, as well as to let the boat know they were there. This time, it wasn’t a dinghy with airs and graces, it was this:


As the Australian naval ship pulled into port we were choppily rushed back to the harbour to leave the whales in peace.

So there you have it, amazing aquatic creatures frolicking in their habitat, and humans have to try and upstage them with their boats. Not that they succeeded in any shape or form.

In keeping with the theme of natural surroundings, my next post will take us to a rainforest in the  Blue Mountains. This time, there’s no guide profanity.

Only my own.


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