Whale-watching 101!
Whale-watching 101!

Each year, Queensland’s coast is visited by majestic pods of beautiful humpback whales. These marvellous creatures – which are anywhere between 12 and 16 metres long, and weigh in at about 30,000kg as an adult – nestle in the warm waters of Hervey Bay with their newborn calves in order to teach them the vital life lessons they’ll need to survive in the harsh Antarctic depths.

The Hervey Bay whale watching season starts around late July, and ends sometime in November when the whales begin their long journey back down south. During these four or so months, tourists flock from around the globe to catch a glimpse of these powerful and magnificent creatures. Hervey Bay is the best spot on the coast to see them, and Australia is one of the only places in the world that you’ll be likely to get a good look.

Watching humpback whales in their natural environment is an incredible experience; humpbacks are extremely powerful swimmers, and they regularly use their massive tail fin to propel themselves out of the water, landing with a mighty splash.

If you’re looking at going whale watching, Hervey Bay is the perfect place to do so. It is estimated that up to half of the 10,000 humpbacks that pass along Australia’s east coast will venture into the bay.
But before you pack up and head over, there’s a few tips and tricks that you should know before you get there.

Pick your time well

The conditions and opportunities that you’re likely to experience in the bay change with each month of their stay.

Picking the right time isn’t a simple question of picking the ‘best’ time, it’s figuring out exactly what you want from the experience, and forming a trip around it.
  • Late July and early August: you’re going to be seeing a vast majority of adult whales, as the first vanguard of the pod make their way into the area. There’s not a lot of opportunity to see calves (as they’re not born yet), and it’s generally a little cooler than later on if you’re adverse to high temperatures. If you’d rather see adult whales, early to mid-August is a great time to take advantage of smaller crowds and larger whales.
  • Late August: you’re not going to see many – if any – calves, but at this time of the season there are sure to be plenty of whales around; mainly adults and a few sub-adults.
  • September: this is the most popular time of year, as it coincides with the school holidays. A sizeable chunk of this year's calves will be viewable here, and all the stragglers from the migration will have made it. A good mix of the whole show here, but remember, it’s the busiest time so you need to be able to stand the crowds.
  • October and early November: is a fantastic time for those of you who want to see families. The crowds thin out once the children get back to school but the whales do not. Expect to see a lot of calves and pods at play, right up until they start heading out towards the end of the season.
Find out more about whale migration periods here.

Prepare against seasickness

Prepare against seasickness with some anti-motion sickness pills from your chemist if you’re the sort of person who gets queasy on a boat. You’re going to be spending a lot of time on it, after all! When on board, try to choose a seat where you will experience the least motion and avoid facing backwards. Fresh air is great for sea sickness so stay out on deck, and if you’re feeling particularly bad just keep your eye on the horizon, unless a magnificent whale gets in the way, of course!

Pack for the climate

Queensland’s climate is generally warm, however whale watching season falls during the end of winter so it can be slightly chilly. Depending on when you come, you might want to have a few things to throw on for a blustery day, and even a raincoat just in case.

Also, remember, whale watching happens out in the bay and it tends to be a tad colder and windier out there. A suitable windbreaker is a good idea and when it comes to deciding what to wear on the day, layers will be your best bet. That way, you can peel them off as you get hot and pop them back on as the air cools.

Listen to the crew

Hervey Bay is a unique spot for whale watching as the animals are not travelling, so they may swim in various or even right alongside the tour vessel. Spotting your first whale isn’t always easy and generally the crew will see them before you do, they are more experienced after all.

Depending on which tour you choose, the crew should explain the types of whales you are seeing whether they are calves, juveniles or adults, as well as the certain behaviours they display. Most importantly, listen attentively to the crew when it comes to safety protocol and procedures.

Slip, Slop, Slap

Remember the saying: Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat!

After a beautiful adventure among some of the largest animals on the planet, the last thing you want is a painful trip home, covered in red, itchy, sunburned skin.

Do yourself a favour and prepare against the harsh Australian sun, even on an overcast day. In fact, it’s the overcast day that tend to be the most dangerous as people become slacker with their sun care regimes. Lather on the sunscreen (and reapply throughout the day), wear protective clothing, put on a hat and remain in the shade as much as possible.

Know your options

If you’re really not the nautical type, know that there are places you can go to see the whales that don’t require you to step off of dry land. It’s not always feasible if the whales don’t come near enough, but from certain beaches and parks you can see them up close, if not quite as personal, from the shore.

We’d recommend getting on a boat if you want the full experience – whales can’t swim right up to you if you’re on the shore very easily – but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the annual migration just as much as everybody else.

The best of the best

To get the best out of your experience, it’s beneficial to know where to go, what time to be there and where to look. This is why a tour tends to be the best option as there will be someone to guide you. However, if you’re doing it on your own there are some things to keep in mind.

Late mornings and early afternoons tend to be the best time to spot the whales. This is because you’ll largely avoid the glare off the water and your line of sight will be better. But don’t worry, if you can’t get there at those times, the whales are around most of the day so you won’t miss them.

In terms of where to go to spot them, most areas along the shore will have a pretty good view. If you go at the right time of year, the whales aren’t passing by Hervey Bay, they’re actually hanging out there so you’ll definitely spot them.

If you’re on your own, look for the ‘blow’ – the water that sprays into the air when a whale breathes out. This can best be spotted in calm waters. Once you spot the blow, keep an eye out for the body breaching the surface of the water. Whales will often put on a show for their spectators – arching, rolling and crashing around – so enjoy the spectacle!

Pick a tour

While you can do things on your own, it’s easier and more beneficial to find a tour. These will be guided so while you can keep a lookout, it’s highly unlikely you’ll miss spotting the whales – that’s what the crew is there for.

The time of year you choose to go will largely influence what kind of tour you take. There are half day, three quarter day and full day options. If you’re going at the very beginning or the very end of the season, chances are the whales will be further out of the bay. These are the times when a full day is most useful as there’s more time to find them and then more time to enjoy the whales once you find them.

Half day tours are run in the morning and afternoon. If you have an option for one of these, mornings tend to be quieter on the boats as the families aren’t up and about by the time these tours need to depart. Also, the water is generally calmer in the morning so it’s easier to spot and enjoy the whales. And don’t worry, there are plenty of tours to choose from!

No matter whether you choose to see the whales from the shore or the sea, Hervey Bay is the best place to see them. It’s pretty much a guarantee that you won’t see them this close and this personal anywhere else in the world.
19 / 09 / 2016