What better reason to brave the cooler waters this winter than go whale watching. The Gold Coast is renowned as the premier whale watching destination in South East Queensland with whales generally coming within a kilometre or two of the beach. Because of its geographical location the Gold Coast has whales passing through all season and it is one of the rare points on the East Coast of Australia where from the middle of August whale traffic heads in both directions past the Coast. One of the most famous whales a person can spot during the whale migration season is Migaloo, the all-white humpback whale.
Remember, if you are planning on whale watching off shore you need to ensure you have the required safety equipment for your boat or PWC. Read our blog on PWC safety to find out what you need for your trip. You also need to make sure you know rules and regulations out on the water when trying to get a peek of these amazing mammals. For a whale, the no approach zone surrounds the animal for 100 metres and extends 300 metres in front of and behind the animal. You need to remember that a PWC is a 'prohibited vessel' therefore needs to stick to the 300 metre rule at all times. Those of us that live within the whale migration region are extremely lucky to be able to experience the sight of the largest living things on earth. It is important to respect the rules and give them the space they need to behave naturally.
Remember - keep a safe distance and do not disturb!
What is the basic rule when near whales and dolphins? Remain quiet and do not try to feed or touch them.
- Be alert and watch for whales and dolphins at all times.
- When in a vessel, do not approach closer than 100m to any whale or 50m to any dolphin.
- The caution zone for vessels is the area within 300m of a whale and 150m of a dolphin. No more than three vessels are allowed within the caution zone at any one time and vessels should operate at no wake speeds within this zone.
- Approach whales and dolphins from parallel to and slightly to the rear - not from directly behind or head-on.
- When leaving whales or dolphins, move off at a slow (no wake) speed to the outer limit of the caution zone (300m) from the closest animal before gradually increasing speed.
- Keep a lookout and avoid disturbance to mother whales or dolphins and their calves. Mother and calf will be close together and the calves are sometimes difficult to see.
- If there is a sudden change in whale or dolphin behaviour, move away immediately at a slow steady pace.
- Whales and dolphins sometimes form social groupings and may approach your vessel - if this happens place the engine in neutral and let the animal(s) come to you; or slow down and continue on course; or steer a straight course away from them.
- Do not get into the water if you see a whale or dolphin. If you're already in the water do not disturb, chase or block the path of a whale or dolphin and if possible, return to your vessel or the shore.
As the cold weather grows in southern waters, these warm-blooded animals find the region uncomfortable therefore migrate for the following reasons; food becomes very scarce since the fish that the whales feed on also migrate, leading to certain hunger and probable death. The warm northern waters provide the perfect breeding ground for whales and this guarantees their survival since May to September is the breeding season. Lastly, the cold waters are potentially fatal for their calves which are usually born in the warmer waters in the second half of the year.
Most of these whales are of the humpback species and usually hurry north as early as may when the waters of Australia’s east coast are much more pleasant. They are visible from Sydney harbor where a robust whale watching culture prevails at this time of the year. Humpback adults range in length from 12–16 meters and weigh about 80,000 pounds. Their name derives from their very long pectoral fins and knobby head that make them look like they have a hump.
Also available in the whale horde that heads north are the southern right whales that use the same route to escape the winter. These latter tend to be more comfortable around people and boats despite their low numbers in the east coast of Australia. This journey often leads the whales towards the Great Barrier Reef region where they stay throughout the winter into mid-spring (June to October).
The northern whale migration of east coast Australia often has the water giants moving farther offshore then their southern return. This makes whale spotting from land or close to the shore much easier when they swim south on their return trip. For those who want to spot them during the northern march, remember to stick to the rules of the water ensuring not to get too close!
The Gold Coast is becoming known as the one of the premier whale watching locations in Australia with whales generally coming within a kilometre or two of the beach off the shore, and because of its geographical location, the Gold Coast has whales passing through all season and it is one of the rare points on the East Coast where, from the middle of August, whale traffic heads in both directions.
We would love for you to share your experiences with these amazing mammals. If you manage to get a glimpse this winter send us your pictures to [email protected]