Around this time of the year I begin to suffer from cabin fever….the dark nights, the endless wind and rain and the freezing cold make me CRAVE a little sunshine. I mean…what IS a blue sky??? I find myself googling things like weekend getaways, cheap city breaks etc etc etc….but then I think of the hassle of kenneling the dogs and abandon the idea….so to cheer myself up I spent a few hours today looking at pics from my six week adventure in Australia last year.
Ever since I saw my first documentary on whales I’ve wanted to see one close up, so my main reason for going to Australia was to see the humpbacks, and all I can say is that to see these creatures close up is truly amazing. I spent two weeks following the whales, which proved quite tricky in terms of finding hotels especially at short notice!!! But heyho, it adds to the fun, especially if you find yourself sleeping in your car! But that’s a story for another day!
The humpback, Megapteranovaeangliae [great wings of New England] was named by the early whalers, due to the humped appearance of it’s back and it s prominent dorsal fin, and each year 14,000 humpbacks are found in Hervey Bay. Due to the tourist trade there, their numbers are now steadily increasing every year, which is absolutely brilliant news.
A humpback whale’s gestation period is almost twelve months and they give birth to their calves in the warmer waters of the northern great barrier reef. The mothers and their calves remain close to shore where they can rest and nurse. One local guy told me that he thought the mothers came to the great barrier reef to show their calves a beautiful garden, as once they head off to the antarctic there is little flora and fauna to be found. What a lovely thought!!!
The mothers actually brought their calves close to the ship, I was in no doubt that they were showing the youngsters what people look like!!! The older whales are still a little suspicious of ships, remembering the hunting days….a whale, like an elephant, never forgets!
Each humpback can be recognised by a unique pattern of marks and coloration on its tail flukes, and the forceful slapping of their tails against the water can be heard underwater and is thought to be a form of communication. While on the whale ship I had the pleasure of hearing an escort whale singing!!! One of the most beautiful and eerie sounds I’ve ever heard! The male escorts often accompany a female looking for an opportunity to mate. At one point I saw up to three males battling for a lady s affection, but they don’t stay together after mating and don’t form long term pair bonds.
An adult humpback weighs 35-40 tons….no small wonder then that when they they beach their body collapses without the water to keep it buoyant… and…they are 13-15 meters long! I was in awe when a whale came alongside of the boat and matched it in length. The calf is 4-5 meters long and weighs up to 2 tons.
I think the humpback looks almost alien…and it took my breath away seeing one this close up…..the hairs actually stood up on my arms…..wonderful!!!
The humpback often lunges head first out of the water and then pounds it s massive mouth on the water’s surface….no-one is totally sure why…
I saw many a whale breach, but sadly my camera never caught it…when one whale breaches many can be seen following suit in the distance.
During the summer humpbacks can consume a ton of food a day, yet the mother’s don’t tend to feed while in the breeding grounds.
I was absolutely heartbroken to leave the whales behind……but I will always have my memories. The humpback is such a strange creature, a gigantic mammal travelling enormous distances and depths in a world we know so little about. An intelligent creature that’s as curious about us as we are about it.