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Whale Migration along Australia's East Coast

Known for theme parks and good times the Gold Coast also has a nature wilderness that will leave you breathless.

Saturday night, it’s a long way from the cool air that’s blown back into Melbourne over the past twenty-four hours. I quietly sit on the balcony at Boulevarde Towers. The one hundred and twenty degree water view stretches along the sandy beach and back towards the infamous nightlife of the Gold Coast. As the sun sets, the first spring storms eerily light up the horizon. The sound of lapping waves ascends to the sixteenth floor.

Now usually as soon as you utter the words the ‘Gold Coast’, most people immediately assume you are going to the theme parks for wild rides and super heroes, but not on this trip. I’m trading the squealing sound of a roller coaster for the ooh aahing of something a little more natural, whale watching.

Each year between May and September a natural phenomenon occurs along the Australian coastline, the migration of the majestic humpback whale. In an approximate eight thousand-kilometre journey, whales flip, breach and slap the surface with their giant fins and tails, performing acrobats as they swim from the cold waters of Antarctica in search of the warmer waters of North Tropical Queensland to breed.

Along the way stragglers often show off their playful side as they rest and mate in the large shallow bay off the Gold Coast.

On a recent trip to Airlie Beach a whale was breaching in the distant water from the ferry and yesterday I saw them frolicking out in the distance but for someone who loves to mingle with nature I have never been up close to the splashing of a whale tail.

While there are a host of places right around the country to spot this natural occurrence, today with not a cloud in the sky and 10 knot winds, I have to decided to seize the moment and head out on the ‘Spirit of Migaloo.’ Named after the famous albino humpback whale that was first sighted in 1991*.

Boarding the vessel the shallow waters are a haven to fish feeding and a rather active crab. The ship slowly moves through the lock and out into open waters picking up pace as it heads further along the coast back towards Broadbeach.

Like an eagle I am scouting the waters for sprays or mammal like creatures. About twenty minutes in we spot our first breaching whale. Like a bat of hell and without warning, our boat races to our sighting. Holding on tight I feel like a pirate seeking lost treasure. I am trying to stay upright but despite the calm waters I am surprisingly queasy a feeling that will remain with me the whole trip. Disappointingly, this forces me to at times observe the whales at play from a seated position. It also forces me to put my camera down and watch the incredible display through a naked eye.

My heart is racing before me a gigantic creature lunges out of the water. The splashing and sound of blow, a result of the whale breathing reverberates. Although we spot about three different pods we stay within a one hundred metre distance of a bull, cow and calf. With a male on the tow there’s plenty of flipping and splashing from the bay as those on board appreciate the display with a chorus of oohs, aahs and the odd clap.

An underwater microphone allows us to discover more than just the surface behavior but also the graceful sounds of them singing.

To my left there is a little dinghy with a couple of guys fishing I am waiting for the whale to capsize it, if my heart is racing with excitement I can only imagine what they are feeling or, perhaps they are use to such incredible sightings but to be surrounded by such a gargantuan creature in such close proximity must be exhilarating.

The most playful and inquisitive gives us one last display. Like a dolphin it arches its back as it dives into the water. It is so close to edge of the boat I can see the large bumps called “tubercle” on its flippers. These contain stiff hair and help the whale to regulate temperature or to sense things in the water. The whale then lifts its tail giving us a graceful wave before disappearing into the depths of the dark water.

A calmness returns and in the stillness its hard to believe such large creatures can disappear without a trace.

Things you need to know:

*Wikipedia: Humpback Whale

Accommodation: Boulevard Towers, Broadbeach

Whale Watching: Sea World Whale Watch

The Gold Coast on the Queensland coast is a 2 hour flight from Melbourne. Tiger, Jetstar, Virgin and Qantas all fly regularly and directly


Profile photo of Vanessa O'Hanlon

As the National Weather Presenter on ABC News Breakfast and ABC News 24 Vanessa has reported on some of Australia and the world’s most significant weather events. In 2011 she wrote and narrated the ABC documentary ‘Eye on the Storm’.Vanessa graduated from Deakin University with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Psychology and Public Relations and has studied with the Bureau of Meteorology.In an expansive media career Vanessa has reported live from a helicopter, co-hosted the lifestyle program ‘Living Life Now’ and hosted Mix 101.1′s ‘Melbourne After Dark’.Born in Melbourne Vanessa, left the city for a regional radio tour honing her on-air presenting and news reading skills at radio stations in Darwin, Shepparton and Alice Springs. Her versatility also extended to Music Director and Copywriter.As a corporate MC and voice over artist Vanessa brings a natural warmth, style and grace to every event or advertisement.Away from the camera or microphone Vanessa has an insatiable sense of adventure, travel and photography. She regularly contributes to Tour The World and The Home Journal. Vanessa is the sole writer and photographer of her own travel blog.Vanessa is also a member of the MSFW Advisory Board.

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