Close Encounters

When it comes to whale watching, we have hit the jackpot. Every single day we have seen several, sometimes at a distance, but at times we have had close encounters. We will never tire of seeing these magnificent creatures.

Humpback whales make a mammoth journey of some 5000kms between their feeding and breeding grounds. Populations in the southern hemisphere spend their time feeding in Antarctica during summer where krill is plentiful. In late autumn they begin an annual migration to their winter breeding and calving sites in the warmer tropical waters of the Pacific. They return south in spring.

Whale Migration

And so the magic about starting our voyage in winter is that we have watched them going north as we started migrating ourselves, and now we are seeing them begin their journey south. There are many mums and their calves, but also older juveniles and mature males travelling in small groups.

Whales are capable of travelling at 4 or 5mph, but they also rest and socialise along the way, so really average only 1mph over their lengthy journey. We see them lulling about in bays or putting on acrobatic displays.

We noticed they started coming south in September. At that time we were still heading north and so our paths would cross. We never try to get close, it just happens as we pass through. Some are very inquisitive and approach us.

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Adult swimming alongside Take It Easy

But since starting our trip south a few days ago we have been travelling with them. Only we sail faster than they go, so we can inadvertently catch up to them. We really have to keep a look out as it would be easy to ram up their bottom! We have had some very close encounters.

A few days ago we had one cut right in front of our bows and all we could say was “dive, dive, dive” as we watched its fluke go down a few meters in front! And the day we were approaching Camden Haven and had dropped our sails, we suddenly saw two surfacing right in front of us: a mum and her calf. We stopped the engines and let ourselves drift away to the side of them, holding our breath. As our friend Waz puts it: “Good thing they can fit between the hulls, but one might get stuck and give you a piggy back home.” Precisely what we want to avoid!

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Calf just in front

A mile or two off Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Camden Haven where the photos in the gallery were taken, our sightings have been particularly frequent. It is fantastic to observe these beautiful creatures and realise that their numbers are increasing steadily. I get very excited when I can capture these gentle giants through the camera lens. We hope you too enjoy seeing them.

19 thoughts on “Close Encounters

  1. Wow so close! We’ve only seen two whales when sailing up the coast of NZ, although there are plenty of them off Kaikoura. I am always worried about hitting one especially at night. One time I was sailing through the darkness and heard a sound followed by a very fishy smell – I thought perhaps there was a whale nearby and I was smelling its breath!

    • We tend to avoid night sails if we can! Their blow is really what gives them away when they just surface or are resting, looking like logs! so they can be hard to see in windy conditions or dim light.

  2. You’re very lucky to experience these magnificent creatures in their natural environment. Enjoy! ❤

  3. Awesome photos! What’s the general advice on jumping overboard with mask and snorkel to get a better look at them? Would be scary for me but maybe really rewarding too. Maybe not a good idea when they have calves. Are you judging the age of the Whales simply on their size or is there something about their fin/tail shapes, etc, that gives away their age/sex etc. Enjoy!

    • There is a definite size difference and protective behaviour from adult females travelling with this year’s calves: 40 tons VS 10! Makes usually travel by themselves. Don’t know how else to tell them apart. As far as jumping in, it’s illegal to approach them. There are people licenced to run whale dives but they tell us that they typically look for a single adult whale (probably male) who is appearing to show interest in the boat and they then put people in the water with mask and snorkel. We were going to do this at Coffs but the weather did not allow. They absolutely don’t do it with mother and calf.so the chance of this happening are slim.

    • Hi Ann, exactly! We are hoping to continue seeing the beasties. We are also planning a few longer stops to enjoy special areas like Broughton and Montague Islands.

  4. Wow! Very few people see that kind of whale activity in the world! …Front seat view! 🙂

  5. Hi Chris,
    Jenni and I have just returned from a break at Merimbula where we twice went out whale watching. What a great privilege to see these awesome creatures up close, they are truly magnificent. Importantly there numbers are on the rise. The locals in the know say that the windier the better as they seem to think they enjoy frolicking in these conditions, hope you see plenty more but don’t get too much wind.
    Sounds like retirement suits you, stay safe.

    Jon N

    • Hi Jon, really nice to hear from you. Yes the whales are an absolute highlight. Every day we see several and over the last months it adds up to hundreds. As you say it is a privilege. Yes retirement afloat is wonderful. We are having fun!

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