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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.