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Monday, August 1, 2011

I have to tell you about my speech. I joined Toastmasters recently and I had a three-minute spot so I decided I would talk on something I knew relatively well – whales.

I was pointing out how very much we are alike – someone from Wales that is and whales.

The man from Wales loves to sing – just like male humpback whales. The female from Wales gives birth to live young – just like a female humpback whale.

All these facts were being absorbed by my listeners with great interest. Then I got to what I considered the interesting part, the male appendage. I handed my man from Wales a school ruler while I held a retractable tape measure. There is a major difference in the size of the appendages of the man from Wales and the male humpback whale.

I got a fellow Toastmaster to hold the tape measure and began my backward walk, looking all the while at the tape measure – waiting to get to the four metre mark. The laughter was rising but I didn’t realize to what extend until I looked up from my serious job of making sure I got the measurement correct to see people rolling – rolling eyeballs, rolling hands in the air and nearly rolling on the floor in great mirth.

What had happened to my serious speech about humpback whales? I don’t know the answer to that and now my fellow Toastmasters’ wonder what I will come up with next. Well I came up with the difference between a beached whale (which was me lying on the floor) and a breaching whale.

All it is you know is that I am fascinated with words. The only difference between Wales and whales is a H and while they sound the same and there are some similarities they are worlds apart. Just like the only difference between beach and breach is an R yet look how far that is apart – from being marooned and flapping in a horizontal position to being wild and free leaping out of the water in a vertical position.

Ah, I love words and I love whales. Next week's speech is going to be about the traditional dances of the South Pacific. Anyone for a hula lesson?

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Whaling Did I Go

I went whale watching on Saturday. Overcast, raining, and cold but what a morning. We headed out at eight aboard Quick Cat II with Captain Brian at the helm, Sarah, Dave and Mel in the galley serving breakfast and me as excited as a kid in a lolly shop. Too excited to eat.

I donned my sailing jacket but it proved to be as handy as a wooden leg in a bush fire. I was saturated by the time we went through the Box Channel on our way up into Platypus Bay but it did not stop me from standing out on the front deck scanning the horizon. We found whales not far up in the bay. We found them with a bit of help from a boatie who was moored off Fraser Island. He saw them swim pass and alerted us by radio.

It was a pod of three sub adults but one broke away so we followed it for a while before we headed back to spend some time with the other two. And did they live up to my expectations of a ‘Nike’ whale. No Fear! They swam around and under and up and down. They gave everyone a workout onboard as we went from the bow to the stern from port to starboard. They were, I am sure doing it on purpose, just to see us move as quick as we could.

They worked their magic. Before long they had made all of us onboard forget about being a bit damp and a bit cold (who said it never rains in Queensland!) We were drawn into their world of carefree playing. It just goes to show you don’t have to have perfect conditions to have a awesome day on the water when you go whale watching in Hervey Bay with the pioneers of whale watching Brian and Jill Perry.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

To Snap or Not to Snap

I always advise people when they go whale watching to not worry about the camera, to leave it in their bag and buy a postcard on their return. If you are a commercial photographer or it is your fifth whale watch trip and you want to see if you can do it better than the professionals than this piece of advise is not for you.

It is also not for Trish and Wally Franklin of the Oceania Project. Their photo-identification survey which began in 1992 (whale watching in Hervey Bay began in 1987) provides data for long-term study of the behaviour, social dynamics and ecology of the humpback and documents the recovery of the East coast of Australia migration following their near extinction by commercial whaling.

I still say, to the average everyday whale watcher – leave your camera in your bag. Why you ask? The desire to get the perfect shot detracts from being in the moment, being with every movement of the boat, being with the whale and the expectation of what it will do next. Buddhists say ‘Be in the moment’ and I think they have it right particularly when you are whale watching. Enjoy the process and the activity. Be one with the vessel you are traveling on, that is part of the journey. Be one with the sea and wonder at how lucky we are to have clean, clear water. When you see a whale, WOW this is what you have come to SEE. Enjoy it.

Ask yourself, are you really going to go back and look at those photos year after year? I think the answer is no but one thing I do know is that you are going to bore all your friends and rellies to death with picture after picture after picture. A postcard that can be stuck on the fridge would be much more welcome I am sure.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


I often ask myself ‘what’s in a name?’ In fact that is what I like to write about, that and how the English language is used or sometimes misused.

I recently came across the name of one of the many whales that Wal and Trish Franklin, of the Oceania Project named and it took my fancy, Slaphappy. I had to delve a bit deeper and find out about this Slaphappy humpback whale as I know the word could mean punch-drunk and if you have seen male humpbacks fighting over the girls you would understand that they could possibly end up punch-drunk.

The word also means buoyantly or recklessly carefree or foolish – happy-go-lucky, which most of the young sub-adults appear to be. The sub-adults are the first of the migration to make their way into Hervey Bay from mid July until mid to late August. The mothers, calves and escorts are next to arrive then the bucks, the big boys bring up the rear of the migration.

Humpback whales reach puberty at 4 to 7 years old, and maturity at 15 years. I call the sub adult or prepubescent humpback ‘Nike’ whales as they appear to have no fear. They love to interact with the vessels and have a good look at the people on the vessels. So I can image a young sub-adult being recklessly carefree but never foolish! Trish confirmed that Slaphappy was a sub-adult female humpback whale.

It is only a matter of weeks now before the first of the southern migration humpback whale makes its appearance in Hervey Bay. Last Friday there was a whale sighted but we think it was bit lost and still on its northern migration. There are always exceptions to the rule! Just like in English!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Whales or Wales?

The English language is fascinating, isn’t it? Spelling words in English can be a challenge, can’t it? Whales or Wales?

Whales with an H and H is for Humpback of course.

Humpback whales visit Hervey Bay every year between July and November. They arrive about mid July and the last of the migration depart at the end of October or sometimes it is early November before they head off around Rooney’s to continue their way down the east coast of Australia.

H is also for human. Did you know that we humans have a lot in common with the humpback whale. We are both mammals, we breath air, give birth to live young. We also love to vocalize to a large audience when given an opportunity. Just ask the producers of Australia’s got Talent.

Humans have a nose with two nostrils through which they breath. Humpbacks have a nose called a rostrum and being a Baleen whale they have two holes through which they inhale and exhale air. Toothed whales only have one hole through which they breath.

The female humpback gestation period is eleven and a half months. That’s only two and a half months longer than us. There is a slight difference in average birth weight though with a humpback weighing in at 4000 pounds and our bonny bubs averaging about seven and a half pounds.

The songs of the humpback whale are the most complex of the animal kingdom and can last up to 30 minutes. Now, as for showing off and singing with great gusto, in the world of the humpback, it is only the male that sings. It could be related to mating, so I guess it is like our serenade!

So while a H may make the world of difference in spelling there are lots of similarities between the giants of the deep and us mere two legged, serenading humans.

Monday, June 6, 2011


We breath in, we breath out. Whales breath in, whales breath out. It’s amazing how much we have in common with the majestic giant of the deep.

I have just spent a couple of days watching my granddaughter run cross-country, a distance of three kilometers or, as stated on the program three thousand meters. All she could say at the end of the race was, ‘I can’t breath, I can’t breath’. She obviously was still breathing as she was still walking and talking!

How do the humpback whales, whom, right now, are on their annual migration up the east coast of Australia, feel? Are they out of breath? After all it is a journey of 10,000 kilometers or if they were on the program 10 000 000 meters.

With lungs the size of a mini minor (it’s great to see the Mini and Cooper S have made a comeback!) they have an advantage over us. The humpback can hold its breath for up to 40 minutes and unlike us humans who expel only 15 to 20% of our air it expels 90%. This air is expelled from the two blowholes (toothed whales only have one blowhole) at a speed of 400kph. The humpback whale breathes in and out in less than two seconds. How’s that for a mammal that weighs 40 tonnes and reaches up to 15 meters in length. If you are a pictorial type of person, that’s six buses on top of each other.

While my ten year old was a bit puffed I was very proud of her efforts and she is very excited to have been chosen for the regional competition. For the humpback whale it is not a competition but a means for reaching warm waters where birthing and procreation can take place and when they call into Hervey Bay on their way home it’s time for a spot of fun and relaxation.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Time is not of the essence

Time they say is of the essence. Time and tide they say waits for no man. Time they say…. Who are THEY?

Time has slipped by for me with my blog and it has been two weeks since I put fingers to the keyboard but the whales of whom I write are on time, taking their time, making their way up the east coast of Australia on their annual migration.

Heading off during the months of March and April the humpback whales leave the feeding grounds of the Antarctica traveling up to 10,000 kilometers to the Whitsunday area, a perfect breeding and birthing ground of sub-tropical waters. In July the homeward journey begins. This is when the whales stop and play in Platypus Bay, off Fraser Island and Hervey Bay for one or two days and sometimes one or two weeks.

The migration appears to be completely structured, organized and perfectly orchestrated but when you come up close to a lolling whale in Hervey Bay you would not think that they had already swum thousands of miles, eaten little if nothing in the way of food. They appear happy, content and what is really fascinating, they appear to be interested in checking you out.

Tears have been known to flow down many a cheek of a mere mortal, me being one of them, when they come close to and make what can only be described as a spiritual connection with these massive mammals. This is when time stands still.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

'Thar she blows!'

Thar she blows!

It is only 12 weeks until all eyes start to search the horizon to find the fine spray of mist that indicates the first sighting of the first whale of the 25th season of whale watching in Hervey Bay.

Tension mounts. You have been onboard for about 20 minutes and the expanse of water glistens; the golden sands and dunes of Fraser Island take your attention. You have driven, flown or bused your way into Hervey Bay for what is probably a once in a lifetime adventure - to see a humpback whale. You begin to think that maybe you will not see a whale today. Then you hear the call, ‘thar she blows.’

You bounce to your feet and look in the direction of pointing fingers. The boat slows and silence once again descends amongst the group. You look expectantly but see nothing. It is like everyone is holding their breath, and then an audible whoosh and what sounds like a grunt– it’s a whale. Cheers and awes erupt at the realisation of a dream - 40 ton of humpback whale, right there beside the boat. Then whoosh another whale. Your breath is really taken away now.

Whale hunters coined the phrase ‘Thar she blows!’ on sighting this column of vapor as the whale exhaled. With each breath that we take we exchange probably 15% of the air in our lungs. A whale exchanges over 90% and they do that in a matter of seconds. They can hold their breath for up to 45 minutes and no wonder, they have lungs the size of the latest Mini Minor.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I was sinking my teeth into a chocolate Bilby on Easter Sunday when my thoughts went to the whales that would soon be gracing the waters of Platypus Bay off Hervey Bay very soon. They don’t have teeth to sink into anything.

The Humpback whale is a toothless whale. They are called baleen whales or mysticeti whales. They have baleen plates instead of teeth so are what we call filter feeders. Baleen, also known as "whalebone" is not really bone, but is made of keratin, the same protein substance as our own hair and nails, and the horns of cattle. The word baleen is derived from the Latin word for whale ‘baleena’.

Humpback whales are mammals just like you and me, and exhibit a number of traits common to all mammals. They are warm blooded, they breathe air and they bear live young and nurse them with milk. Unlike me though they are seasonal feeders. They eat twice a day for about 120 days. That equates roughly to 240,00kg of food.

In order to feed, a humpback whale opens its mouth and scoops food (such as krill, plankton and small fish), together with large volumes of water. It then partly shuts its mouth and presses its tongue against its upper jaw, forcing the water to pass out sideways through the baleen. This sieves out the food that it then swallows.

Can you imagine the mess if that was how I ate my Easter egg each season. Imagine what I would look like if I ate that many kilos of chocolate Bilby. I’ll stick to being a grazer while I wait for these majestic giants to return to the calm waters off Hervey Bay. Why are the waters calm? We are sheltered from the predominating south easters by Fraser Island.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Platypus Bay

The work that goes into making a whale season in Hervey Bay a successful season now begins in earnest. Website updates, brochure updates, putting advertising in place (and isn't that a hard one – deciding where you advertising dollar is best spent), attend trade shows, visit the local agents. The list is never ending – all for the love of this.

The season in Hervey Bay runs from mid July until the end of October. The reason for what may be considered a short season is because the whales only stop and play, for a day or even a week, in the Bay on their southern migration. Other centres around the country run longer seasons as they are in open ocean and get the whales on the move on both the northern and southern migration.

Hervey Bay is sheltered by World Heritage Fraser Island (the world's largest sand island) so as the humpback whales leave the Antarctic and head for the warm waters of the Whitsundays they swim up the coast,which for Hervey Bay means the eastern side of Fraser Island and it is not until they are heading south that a percentage of the migration funnel into the calm waters of what on the marine chart is known as Platypus Bay.

Now you know I love to talk about 'what is in a name?' Well, I find the name Platypus Bay rather amusing so I, of course, Googled! I had the interesting and unique to Australia Platypus swimming happily around the western shores off Fraser Island having a wonderful time on holiday. Everyone loves a holiday in Hervey Bay. So how did the Bay get its name? I have no idea. I could not find anything about the name but I did find out how Hervey Bay got its name. James Cook named Hervey Bay after Augustus John Hervey (1724-1779). Hervey was the Third Earl of Bristol and Lord of the Admiralty.

So while I am none the wiser how Platypus Bay got its name I will carry on researching and go on with the task at hand – getting ready for the 2011 whale watch season in Hervey Bay.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Whale Names - Introducing Nala

Nala is the patron whale of Hervey Bay. The Hervey Bay community adopted Nala in 2005 as part of the Humpback Icon Project, which celebrates the annual migration and campaigns against whaling. Nala is part of the 11,000 strong east Australian humback whale population.

She was first spotted in 1987 and named in 1996, after the character from the Lion King movie, by a group of children aboard the Oceania Project research vessel. The tradition of the Lion King continued, naming her offspring Simba in 1996; Pumba in 1998; Rafiki in 1999; Mufasa in 2002; Timone in 2003 and Zazu in 2006.

By 2010 they had run out of movie names and so it was put to the public to name Nala’s new calf. The Chronicle offered a whale watch trip as first prize. Many a name was proffered. Alan was one of them, Nala spelt backwards, but alas it was a girl. But it was Jennifer McLean’s suggestion of Mirrhi, the Aboriginal name meaning ‘little girl’, which won.

Wally Franklin from the Oceania Project said Aboriginal names could provide inspiration for naming Nala’s calves further down the track when she brought them to Hervey Bay.

It is not the first time an Aboriginal word has been used to name a humpback whale. Migaloo, who is as a "hypo-pigmented" humpback or albino whale, is another famous whale seen on the east coast of Australia. Migaloo is the name Aboriginal community elders from the Hervey Bay area in Queeensland use to describe a White Fella. He is a rather large white fella often being described as ‘bigger than a truck’. I am not sure if that is a pick up truck, semi trailer or a B Double. I would hazard a guess, a B Double.

For more stories on whales, like Phantom and her calf Opera and how they got their names visit the web site of The Oceania Project:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What's in a Name

What's in a name.
My granddaughter was born in the September. It was November and do you think a name could be chosen that sounded just right and suited this tiny new bundle of sleepiness. The local barmaid's name was thrown forward as a suggestion - no. Nothing against the girl but it just didn't sit right. The array of names on the fridge changed on a daily basis and verbalised constantly but - no. None of them fitted.

I suggested Talei which is Fijian for precious. This stirred some feelings and the name was used in a whimsical way - it took two weeks before it was accepted as the name she would have and use from this day forward.

Zoe is Greek for life It was added in honour of me. While living in Greece that is what I was called - there is no Sh in Greek so Zoe it was for me then and Talei now. Talei Zoe.

The Renee came some time later - a long story and another chapter of my blog. Renee is French for reborn.

So we ended up with Precious Life Reborn - just in time to fill in the registration paper work for the government. Talei Zoe Renee.

Talai was born on the same date as a very special 'Nan'. Nan had passed so in essence a precious life had indeed been reborn.

What's in a name - it fascinates me!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New Website

All is very exciting as I work with my web designer coming up with my very own web page - Shirley Cameron-Smith.
It is an interesting exercise thinking about yourself and your business. Just exactly who are you, and what do you do.
I thought these would be easy questions to answer. What I am finding is that while they are easy in some respect, because you know the subject well, it is confronting. I am confronted with thinking about EXACTLY who I am and exactly what it is that I do do.
I have underestimated myself. I have obviously been doing this for years. What an eye opener this, creating a website, has been for me.
Loving every minute, driving the web designer mad but boy what a ride.