It's whale migration time in Australia, to which sailors usually have an ambivalent response - great they're increasing in numbers, wonderful to see them off the bow, but NOT TOO CLOSE!' So how do sailors avoid these friendly giants of the sea while underway offshore? There's a very simple answer, not guaranteed, but, apart from keeping an eagle eye on the horizon, the best we have.
Here's the secret: the whales are not stupid - they use the currents. While migrating north, they use the Inshore Northern current, which is usually within three nautical miles off the coastline. While migrating south, they use the Eastern Australian current, which usually starts around three nautical miles off the coastline and reaches its optimum strength around 10nm from the coast.
So early in the whale migration season (ie. autumn to winter), move well off shore, and vice versa late in the season (winter to spring). Where you are, of course will dictate the specifics of what 'early' and 'late' mean, and it won't mean much at all if you're in tropical waters where they are headed. Then again, sailing north will need to be judged with a little finesse - you don't want to be sailing in the full force of a contrary current.
While not underway, of course, it's a different story, and sailors can join others who have no restrictions on their joy at watching a breaching whale. In fact, for the second year, Queensland kids have celebrated the whale season with a synchronised 'Welcoming of the Whales' ceremony at six locations on the east coast on 'National Whale Day' the 7th June.
Whale Paddle out for Whale Day, Torquay, June 07 - .. .
Staged at locations along the Queensland coast from the Gold Coast through to Hervey Bay and right up to Tropical North Queensland, the ceremony saw 372 children serenade the ocean with a song and dance dedicated to the humpback whale, written especially for the occasion by award-winning Queensland songwriter Nadia Sunde.
The ceremony marks the start of a five month season where nature fans will be able to get up close and personal with the southern hemisphere's humpback whale population as they journey north from Antarctica along the Queensland Whale Trail, before heading back south in the spring.
Whale expert Vicki Neville from Tasman Venture in Hervey Bay said this year they were expecting more humpback whales than ever before to stop, rest and play in the calm, protected waters of Hervey Bay, the premier whale watching destination in Australia.
'Thanks to conservation efforts and a greater understanding of these amazing creatures, the humpback whale population has bounced back significantly in recent years,' she said.
School kids welcome the whales on National Whale Day, Scarness - .. .
'We're now seeing well over 16,000 whales making the migration every year, making it one of nature's biggest comebacks.
'Queensland has a trusting and inquisitive whale population. Many whales frequently swim up to our boats for a closer look. This 'spy-hopping' behaviour is just one of the many humpback traits you can expect to witness while whale watching.'
The Hervey Bay whale watching season begins in July and lasts through until early November, but the best time to spot a humpback whale in action is from August to October, where there can be up to 200 whales frolicking in the bay. Mums and calves dominate the latter half of the season, diverting from the coastline to rest and teach newborns survival skills for the deeper, colder waters of Antarctica.
Queensland is fast becoming one of the world's best spots for whale watching due to the warmer waters which encourage the whales to stay and play. Top locations on the Queensland Whale Trail include the Gold Coast, Moreton Bay, the Sunshine Coast, Hervey Bay, the Whitsundays and Tropical North Queensland.
To find out more about whale watching opportunities on the Fraser Coast and the best times to visit, go to whalesherveybay.com.au