During the annual migration, it’s whales galore in Hervey Bay. Baby whales show off, whales mug our boat, blue oceans, perfect weather, a room with a view, mouth-watering food and ice-cold cocktails on the harbour equals a fantastic weekend of whale watching in Hervey Bay.
Humpback whales migrate from the Antarctica to the tropical waters of Australia every winter to mate and give birth. On their return journey to the Antarctica, many of these whales spend a few days in the calm and sheltered waters of Hervey Bay. This makes Hervey Bay one of the best places in the world to witness the longest animal migration in history.
Whales are now so comfortable, used to and interact with the local whale watching boats that many of the whale watching operators offer a guarantee of seeing the whales or a full refund.
We book our whale watching tour with Freedom Whale Watch. Freedom III is a comfortable 58-foot catamaran. For someone who gets seriously sea sick, stability is important and I am pleased to say I never got sea sick!
From the Sandy Straits Marina, we depart at 9.30 am. After an introduction to the crew and a safety brief, we steam out through the waters of the Great Sandy Marine Park towards the whale sanctuary of Platypus Bay. While travelling Keith the skipper gives a commentary on the whales, their conservation and the local area, including Fraser Island. The weather is perfect and Keith tells us it’s only going to get better throughout the day.
The boat is comfortable with whale viewing on all three levels. There is nowhere on the boat that is off limits including the wheelhouse. The wonderful crew; Louis, Billy and Ivan are very helpful and go out their way to make sure everyone is comfortable. Morning tea of homemade profiteroles and freshly baked scones with cream and jam are served. The crew walk around the boat with plates of delicious food making sure everyone is full and satisfied! Not only this they walk around with sunscreen making sure no one is too sunburnt!
Not long in Platypus Bay we see our first whales! In the distance, we see the blows which are like a thick mist and how the whales exhale air. Once we get closer the engine on the boat is shut down. There are strict rules for boat operators and they are mindful of approaching the whales in a gentle way.
We see our first acrobatic display of a whale breaching, the most spectacular of all whale behaviours. After the breaching, the crew put a special microphone under the water and we hear the beautiful haunting sounds of whale singing.
We move on and stop again when the crew spot more whales. A mother and her baby approach the boat. Keith tells us the babies in the bay are from one week to four weeks old. It is not that common for a mother to approach a boat with her baby. Often a mother and her calf have an escort, usually a male who will put himself between the boat and the mother and baby.
Mum and baby touch each other with their flippers affectionately and swim right up to the boat and have a good look. Sometimes they will do this so mum can show the baby that the boat is bad and to stay away from the propellers. While in the warm sheltered waters, mum teaches the baby survival skills before heading back to the cold waters of the Antarctica.
They swim in and out from under the boat, right beside it and then swim away. They swim a little way out and mum stops and feeds the baby! Hanging upside down, with her tail erect she spends about 15 minutes feeding her baby milk. While mum is in this position, the mammary glands are in the perfect orientation for her to squirt milk in the baby’s mouth.
After mum and baby move on we think it can’t get much better than this. Keith starts the boat to move on but soon changes his mind. All of a sudden the baby starts breaching! It is like he is full of energy after his milk and really showing off. This is one cute adorable show!
A tropical buffet lunch is served while watching the whales. There are plenty of yummy salads for vegetarians. Filtered water, tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer and wine are available.
After lunch, a pod of whales mug our boat. A ‘mugging is when a pod of whales swim around the boat and it is a situation of them watching us. They chase and play with each other. They swim on their backs and swim under the boat and spyhop which is raising their head so they can get a better view on what’s happening above the water.
One repeatedly lifts his tail out of the water and slaps it on the surface and the other one pectoral slaps. It is not yet known the reason they do this. The load slapping sounds can be heard a long way underwater so it can be a way of communicating with other whales, some sort of warning or they do it just for fun!
During the course of the afternoon we see more whales. At least 10 different pods from baby calves to full grown adults. A day of breaching, tail slapping, pectoral slapping, belly showing, mugging and spy hopping is all a part of a day’s whale watching in Hervey Bay!
After a full day of whale watching, Freedom arrives back in the marina about 4 pm. The whales, the crew with their great sense of humour, the comfortable boat, which has plenty of room even when fully booked, made this a perfect day.
We stay at the Mantra right on the Marina. This is the perfect location as the harbour is just outside our door! This makes for a perfect getaway for a couple of days with no need to go anywhere else. We love the atmosphere of the cafes on the marina with a view of all the boats parked in the harbour. Our favourite is Café Balaena. We have most of our meals here as it serves the most delectable meals with a good choice of vegetarian meals.
Our one bedroom self-contained apartment with views of the harbour was on special for $95 a night with a minimum of three nights stay.
BreakFree Sandy Straits is also on the harbour and has some great views of the harbour and ocean. It is more expensive than the Mantra, but it does have some good deals at times.
Whale Watching in Hervey Bay Information
The price of our whale watching trip with Freedom Whale Watch was $130 per person. This includes:
Return transfers from accommodation in Hervey Bay
Morning and afternoon tea
Tropical buffet lunch
Filtered water, tea and coffee
Freedom spends all day out in the bay which means more time with the whales. Generally, we would prefer smaller boats, but the smaller boats are less steady in rough weather which means more chance of sea sickness and harder to take photos. Smaller boats also need more time to get out to the bay and back. Freedom is so spacious it does feel like a small crowd.
Whale Watching season starts late July and ends in early November. August and September are the best months with a lot of mothers and babies.
If you are prone to sea-sickness the best thing to do is take two sea-sickness tablets such as kwells the night before and again in the morning before going on the boat. This way they are in your system. Once sick it is too late to take them!
A good hat and plenty of sunscreen are necessary. With the excitement of the whales, it’s easy to forget! The crew on Freedom do offer sunscreen all throughout the day.
Hervey Bay has a range of whale watching tours to suit all individual needs.
Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island offers some good package deals that include the return ferry, accommodation, tours of Fraser and whale watching cruises from Fraser Island. This is an excellent way of seeing Fraser Island and the whales for a good price.
A visit to Fraser Island is recommended if in Hervey Bay. If you have your own 4 wheel drive a few days camping is a great way to explore the island. If you prefer an organised tour for a couple of days adventure Drop Bear is very popular or a one-day premium tour with Fraser Free also has great reviews.
Other places in Australia for Whale Watching
Gold Coast and Moreton Bay in Queensland
Byron Bay and Sapphire Coast in New South Wales
Point Hicks and Ottway Coast in Victoria
Storm Bay in Tasmania
The cliffs of the Great Australia Bight in South Australia
Cape Leeuwin, Ningaloo and Shark Bay in Western Australia
Interesting Facts on Humpback Whales and their Migration
In winter the Antarctic becomes too cold for the warm-blooded whales and food is scarce.
Newborn babies are born with no blubber and would freeze to death if born in the Antarctic.
Babies are about 3-5 metres long and can weigh up to a ton!
Their life expectancy is from 45-50 years with some researchers saying they can live up to 80 years.
Humpback whales become sexually mature between the ages of five and nine.
Female humpbacks are known to reproduce a baby once every 2-3 years.
The gestation period for humpback whales is 11 months.
They can travel up 10000 kilometres and rarely eat during the migration.
The majority of whales in Australian waters migrate north from June to August and return to the Antarctic in October and November.
The whales do not depart from the Antarctic en masse but flow in different groups.
In the first group, young males lead the migration with mum and baby pairs in the back.
About 12 days after the first group leave, a second group leave. This group is generally made up of immature males and females.
A third group leave about 20 days later, these include mature males and females that are not pregnant or have no babies.
The last to leave are the heavily pregnant females. They have the longest stay in the feeding grounds of the Antarctic, fattening up to prepare for the migration journey to give birth. They will often cross paths with newly pregnant females that were in the first group, heading back to the Antarctic.
The females are weaning their last year’s babies during the migration. By the time they reach the mating and birthing waters of the Great Barrier Reef, the babies are able to look after themselves, though they stay close to mum until the second trip back to the Antarctic.
The bond between mother and baby is very strong. During the first year, they will stay eyeball to eyeball or pectoral fin distance from each other.
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