We have driven to the edge of the Nullarbor, to Penong, from where we could drive another 2 hours to the head of The Great Australian Bight (called Head of Bight) so that we could be here, for once, at peak whale season. The Great Southern Right Whales migrate here every year, between May and September, from cold southern oceans to calve and breed in the warmer water.
There is a fee to go to the Bunda Cliffs to view the whales, or the coastline, and this goes to the Aboriginal Lands Trust. Tickets are bought at the visitor centre where there is information, café style snacks and souvenirs.
There are quite a few platforms from which to look out, and a couple are suitable for wheelchairs, but two require negotiating steps.
People using very good cameras, that allow detailed close-ups, are asked to submit their photos, to help scientists to keep track of the whales as they monitor their behaviour. Others of us use the railings and window ledges to steady our shot and zoom in as much as we can. You start by scanning the blue expanse.
Hoping for a splash.
A jet of water.
A shadow that moves.
We saw about 16 whales, made up of 8 pairs of mother and offspring. We were told that most of the calves are about 3 weeks old and getting playful. The people leaving, as we entered, said with great excitement that they had seen the whales breeching and playing, so we were almost jogging out.
We spent about 2 hours, mostly at the western platform and were rewarded with close swims and the sound of the whales as they expire. Having finally remembered to take our binoculars with us, we could see the barnacles on the faces and sides of the mothers as they swam.
This ends with a wave from the calf as it slides over its mother.
It is quite moving to see these big sea creatures, gliding back and forth and sometimes far away or joining another pair, knowing it has gone on for centuries.
Humpbacks also migrate to tropical waters in Western Australia, from June to August and can sometimes be seen in the distance. Outside the visitor centre is the skull of a juvenile humpback, washed up dead on the beach in 2009. Whales can also be viewed off the central eastern coast of Queensland, by boat, or from the coastline in South Australia, near Victor Harbour.
In the past we’ve made it here in late September, when they are all but returned to the south, and this time was definitely so much better.
It was a glorious day and apart from discussing the whales, as always in the middle of nowhere, we had chats with people about where they were from and where they were headed. We exchange spots that have been discovered and are worth a look, wave goodbye and say…
A P.S. – yesterday, a friend told me that while we were away a couple had gone out in their inflatable boat, just off a local beach, and were passed by 2 southern right whales. One was underneath them as they excitedly filmed for twitter (3 too many letters in that medium)!!