Whales

20 Aug

Tuesday 9th August – Whalewatching

Last Tuesday was my last ever day at Pindara. After watching a lovely Caesarean and a slightly less lovely hysterectomy, and saying a final goodbye to Ben, Dennis, Dan, Liz, Margaret and all the other wonderful theatre staff, I went on my last-minute whalewatching adventure with Whales in Paradise. From late May to early November humpback whales migrate north from Antarctica up the coast of Australia to have their babies in warmer waters. Luckily for me the stretch of ocean running parallel to the Gold Coast is known as the “humpback highway” – the place is heaving with them throughout the entire migration season!

The trip started with a 30-minute cruise out of Surfer’s and down the Nerang River past the many multi-million-dollar houses on the riverfront – I saw Jackie Chan’s house, many houses with ridiculously massive yachts and one which had a helicopter parked on the river in the back garden! As we got further from the main residential area we also went past some gorgeous little beaches which have obviously been kept secret from the scabby tourist masses:

A little piece of paradise probably owned by some celebrity or other

Eventually we got to the Spit at Stradbroke Island and from there escaped onto the open ocean. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy floating around in a little boat being rocked by the sea.

The sea, the sea

Once we had travelled the prescribed number of kilometres from land to legally be allowed to whalewatch, we were all expected to pitch in and start scanning the horizons for signs of whales leaping around or breathing at the surface. After about 15 minutes someone with much better eyes than mine managed to spot a potential whale-related commotion in the distance and we went over to have a better look. He was right: we had found a very excitable male whale who was busy splashing around all over the place to attract the attention of a nearby lady whale.

I managed to get a few decent pictures of breaches and tail-slaps when I wasn’t too busy being childishly excited (which was admittedly most of the time). Apologies for some of them being a bit wonky: I literally had to point the camera vaguely in the direction of the whale and press the button straight away in order to get any pictures at all!

Breaching humpback

Another breaching humpback

Breaching (practically flying) humpback

Great big tail slap

Around 20 minutes later we realised that alongside impressing us a great deal, our whale had also managed to successfully impress his desired lady-whale, who came splashing over to check him out. We were privileged to be able watch a whale romance unfold before they disappeared deeper underwater to get to know each other a bit better.

Whale romance (awww)

Whale foreplay? ... thankfully whale sex happens underwater; they do it standing up though the naughty things!

Things went quiet for a while after that, but we hung around waiting and were rewarded with a proper whale “mugging”. A mugging happens when whales come very close to a whalewatching boat and essentially trap it, as it has to turn its engines off to avoid hurting or scaring them. Of course no-one really minds when this happens as it means you get to see the whales up close! It was AMAZING. They were swimming right next to us and kept diving under the boat – one even did a “spy hop” to get a better look at the weird humans it had found. It did make me wonder if during their migration the humpbacks stop off on the Gold Coast to do a spot of “human watching” as part of their summer holiday!

Coming for a closer look

Tail shot!

Humongous humpback diving under the boat! I love this picture

Eventually our time on the water was up and we had to head back to shore – when they announced this everyone moaned like children who’d just been told that playtime was over (I’m glad it wasn’t just me). However, the journey back was not without delights of its own as we got to watch the sun go down over the Gold Coast and the marina.

Pretty boats at sunset

Main Beach at sunset

We couldn’t get back to the dock because the high tide had made it impossible to get under the bridges, so we got off the boat somewhere near Main Beach and onto a bus to take us back to Surfer’s. I ended up sitting next to the marine biologist who had been giving us the commentary during the tour: we had a good chat about how he essentially had the best job in the world and how extremely jealous I was. Apparently our trip had been the best whalewatching session of the season so far, so I felt very lucky!

I arrived home with the tired-but-happy feeling you only get after a pretty much perfect day. It makes me sad to think we have hunted so many species of whale almost to extinction when they are beautiful, intelligent and defenceless creatures.

I’ll finish with a quote from Carl Sagan; not the happiest of thoughts but definitely a fitting one:

“The brain size of whales is much larger than that of humans. Their cerebral cortexes are as convoluted. They are at least as social as humans. Anthropologists believe that the development of human intelligence has been critically dependent upon these three factors: brain volume, brain convolutions and social interactions amongst individuals. Here we find a class of animals where the three conditions leading to human intelligence may be exceeded, and in some cases greatly exceeded.

The Cetacea hold an important lesson for us. The lesson is not about whales and dolphins, but about ourselves. There is at least moderately convincing evidence that there is another class of intelligent beings on Earth beside ourselves. They have behaved benignly and in many cases affectionately towards us. We have systematically slaughtered them.”

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