Sep 14, 2014

A Spot of Sunday Cetacean Spotting

Up bright and early this morning because today was Nicole's day off and that means treat day! A break from the drudgery of everyday life,  a temporary escape from Brisbane, a rare jaunt in these days of injury-curtailment and time-poverty.

Nicole's wish was that we should finally, after many years, bite the bullet and finally go whalewatching, so in a test of my limited organisation capabilities (I'm joking, potential employers) I typed "whale watching brisbane" into Google and chose the one that was nearest. In a further stroke of genius I telephoned them (I know, right?!) and booked some places. With an attention to detail you might find difficult to credit (joking again) I order vegetarian meals for Eloise and me.

We would have been there with heaps of time to spare if I'd remembered to pack my pain relief tablets and my sling. But we made up time by bravely over-ruling the GPS lady and taking a naughty short-cut. Defeat was almost snatched from the jaws of victory though when it turned out that it was Market Day in Redcliffe and so parking spaces were at a premium.

However some inspired parking-space-hunting from Mrs Gavin (nee Slimm) got us slotted in and a stroll through the market got us to the jetty, and there in the distance the MV Eye Spy, a craft named in the Grand Australian Tradition of assigning Crap Names to things. At least it wasn't named after a faceless bureaucrat though, I am supposing.

I managed to bluff us onto the vessel, though not much bluffing was required as we had a valid confirmation number and our names were on the passenger manifest, but still it was a relief to know that I hadn't made some basic error like failing to pay or booking for the wrong day, or a different ship, or a different activity altogether, or anything like that. I felt quietly gratified as we wandered through the large passenger lounge, across the front deck (which I will choose to call the beam deck, because that sounds good and like it might be right, but almost certainly isn't), around the first-floor passenger lounge, the shaded seating area round the back, up to the roof-top viewing area, and back down again into the lounge we'd previously wandered around, where we found some seats and sat down in them.

Eloise, it turns out, despite being a fine swimmer, is a nervous sailor, worried about sensible things like the ship spontaneously splitting in half or wobbling itself apart. I reassured her that that was an unlikely scenario but maybe she should take some seasickness pills, and I would hold her hand if we needed to go for a wander while the ship was in motion.

Before long we set off and the Eye Spy's custom-built silent running engines, specially designed not to disturb whales, roared into life propelling the catamaran across the smooth water of Moreton Bay. Dido's "White Flag" played upon the stereo as the craft wallowed quickly across the slight swell: "I will go down with this ship / And I won't put my hands up and surrender."

We sailed up the bay-side coast of Moreton Island and soon rounded Point Whatsit, whereupon, now that we were out on the Open Ocean (with Capital letters and all) the passengers were exhorted to keep their eyes peeled, with almost immediate results - throttling back in shallows off Point Thingy, the Eye Spy was soon idling between two pods of whales.

Up on the top deck, Nicole and Lyra had a groovy view of the dark behemoths gliding mirage-like beneath the waves. Down on the first floor, Eloise and I were joined by Mary as the dark bulk of the Humpacks' dorsals eased out of the water and the whales blew sprays metres into the air.

Captain Bloke took station at a little deck-side helm station and began talking about stuff.

It became clear that were surrounded by many more whales than we had ever suspected might be possible: there were at least five humpbacks swimming along not ten metres away in a pod, and there were more a little further away.

The cetaceans were, Captain Bloke assured us, completely at ease with us being there, as with only two ships operating in the Moreton Bay area and many more humpbacks wild in the environment these days there was no need for the ships to hassle the whales.

And the whales did indeed seem relaxed, gently ambling around, blowing off and sunning their backs but not doing much more.

We didn't mind. We were just happy to be able to see these celebrated creatures out in the wild without being the sort of wankers about it who would, you know, chase them down just to get a look.

After a while lunch was called for and we went down to get our vegetarian special orders. While we were queueing, you know with cameras inside and everything, the tannoy got all excited about whales waving their tails about and stuff, but I wasn't losing my place in that queue for no-one, no way.

We looked out as were getting to the end of the queue and there was a whaley Mum with her whaley Baby. Aww.

But look, because after lunch the whales must have sensed our renewed energy, or post-prandial torpor, or something different, because heads started to appear from the water and then the photograph that everyone had been waiting for presented itself to those who were sufficiently on the case:

Shortly after this the whales got bored or had some urgent appointment in their humpback diaries or something, because with a few thrusts of their tail-flukes the huge shapes just powered away, leaving us in the middle of the shallow blue sea weighing options.

Captain Bloke saw a pod off in the distance which were slapping their fins or something and before long we were breasting the Ocean Swell, Capital letters and all, at flank speed with an instrumental jazz-funk version of Sade's "Smooth Operator" playing to speed us on our way.

These whales stopped performing when we got near, and soon it became clear that Lyra was flagging, and after she vomited a bit I took her out back into the shade where she fell asleep in my arms as we wended our way back to port.

We were pretty happy with it: it was expensive, to be sure, but good value - we were out for four and a half hours - and even though the whales weren't as active as they reportedly are, normally, it was an exciting (no I won't say humbling because that would be bollocks) experience. One of those that is kind of a culturally significant experience, a sign of our notionally ecologist times. Definitely worth it.

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