|Whale Tale - Quick Facts|
Virgin and Jetstar Airlines operate direct flights from Sydney to the Fraser Coast, or you can fly form Brisbane with Sunshine Express. Kingfisher Bay Resort provides coach transfers from Hervey Bay/Fraser Coast Airport to the Urangan Boat Harbour.
Ever wondered where whales go on their holidays? Well, if you're a humpback whale, it's Fraser Island. More than 1000 humpback whales book their holidays in Hervey Bay from August to October, spending anywhere from a day or two to two weeks relaxing and nurturing their calves in the sheltered lee of Fraser Island, providing lucky human tourists with some of the best whale watching in the world. Each year some 3000 whales migrate from the cold Antarctic waters to the warmer tropical seas along Australia's east coast to give birth and many stop to rest in the sheltered waters of Hervey Bay before returning south, a journey of more than 5,000 kilometres. The mothers use the rest to fatten up their newborn calves and teach them the necessary skills to survive the long journey and deeper, colder waters of Antarctica.
Between August and October it is one of the best places in the country to see humpbacks with their calves as sightings are almost guaranteed and the whales are active with lots of spectacular displays of breaching, tail flapping and pectoral slapping. There are some 20 commercial vessels taking around 80,000 people whale watching each season, but we've headed to Fraser Island's Kingfisher Bay Resort for a combination of luxury spa pampering, off-road 4WD adventures and a whale watching cruise.
On daily whale watch cruises, interpretive rangers share an insight into the whales' habits. Kingfisher Bay head ranger Colin Anderson explains: "We are so lucky in Hervey Bay to be able to see the whales at such close range. The whales often come right up to the boat and spy on the people. You have to wonder just who is watching who."
The resort's whale watching catamaran, Kingfisher 1, gives great views of the whales with all round viewing from the upper deck and a viewing deck on the lower bow, although they are hard to miss. The humpback whales are the fifth largest of all the dolphins and whales with adults growing up to 15 metres and weighing up to 40 tonnes. A new born calf is around 4.5 metres long and 1.5 tonnes in weight. They are easy to identify as they have the longest pectoral fins of all whales, around five metres in length, and have large heads that are covered with knobs the size of golf balls called tubercles. You can imagine the splash an animal the size of 11 elephants makes as it propels most of its body out of the water and belly flops onto the surface!
Sometimes, whale watchers will be lucky enough to be on a boat that gets "mugged" by the whales when the whales come right in close to the boat and have a really good look, sometimes as close as one to two metres and staying around the boat for as long as 10 minutes or more.
About a third of the 2000 or more humpbacks that pass along the east coast of Australia will venture into the bay. In pre-whaling days the numbers were believed to be more than 10,000. When the hunting of whales was banned in 1963 the number thought to be left was only about 300 to 500. Thankfully, numbers are increasing at the rate of 10 to 12 per cent each year.
Various groups carry out research in the bay with the main objective being to monitor the recovery of the population. Humpback whales often show their tails before diving under the water and each tail has markings that make it unique. By taking photographs researchers can monitor the movements of individuals and more than 1000 whales have been identified this way.
The best times for whale watching in Hervey Bay and Fraser Island are August, September and October. During the first part of the season you will see pods of mainly adult and sub-adult whales. Mothers and calves arrive towards the end of the season. Whenever you go, you know you're going to be in for a whale of a time.
The action is only a short cruise from Kingfisher Bay Resort, where you can sometimes see whales off the resort jetty, as well as dolphins and occasionally dugong, the world's only plant-eating marine mammal.
Whale watching packages are available at Kingfisher Bay Resort.
Facilities at the resort include three restaurants, a coffee shop and café, four bars, nightly entertainment, Beauty Therapy, massage and hairdressing, general store with resort wear, provisions, newsagent, bottle shop, 4WD hire, petrol and post office.
The resort also offers a range of 4WD and guided eco-tours of the island and daily activities such as nature walks, bush-tucker talks and night-time animals spotting. Tel: 1800 072 555.
Article by Lee Atkinson, May 2006.