The big arrival: whale watching begins in Augusta

 

The big arrival

Whale watching season 2017 has started in Augusta

Whale watching has officially begun at Augusta for the year, as captured beautifully by Naturaliste Charters and Tim Campbell Photo. Words by Carmen Jenner.

Western Australia’s South West has Australia’s longest whale-watching season – taking place at Flinders Bay, Augusta, from June to August, and Geographe Bay from September to early December – and many would claim ours is the best location to observe humpbacks, southern right whales, rare blue whales, pygmy whales and their calves.

In fact, Geographe Bay is so favourable it becomes a whale nursery, as Chandra Salgado Kent from the collaborative research program SouWEST (Southwest Whale Ecology Study) notes; “The waters of Geographe Bay provide a relatively sheltered environment for southern right whales during their breeding and calving season, and for humpback whales and blue whales migrating south along the Australian coastline towards Antarctic feeding grounds. Sometimes mother-calf pairs are seen resting in Geographe Bay while the mother suckles her calf,” she says.

The study is a long-term collaboration between Western Whale Research, Curtin University and Dunsborough Coast and Land Care, with support from Naturaliste Volunteer Sea Rescue and generous volunteers. Their aim is to collect information on the behaviour and population of the whales using Geographe Bay and how changes in the environment affect their numbers and behaviours.

There of course continue to be many threats to whales which include pollution, disease and climate change. As long as these impacts are managed, recovery to their population is possible. Whale watching itself has to obey strict rules to ensure it doesn’t add to the problem. It’s imperative to join an accredited tour company which is mindful of noise pollution, controls the number of daily tours and number of passengers while abiding by the distance ruling.

There are several reputable and respectful tour operators offering the chance to encounter the whales up close on a whale watching cruise.

  • Whale Watch Western Australia welcomes you aboard the luxurious 25 metre Steep Point, with 5 viewing decks.
  • Legend Charters is a TripAdvisor favourite, family run business which has been operating in the region for many years.
  • All Sea Charters Whale Watching & Deep Sea Fishing – For $90 you can experience some of Western Australia’s best whale watching.
  • Naturaliste Charters are pioneers of whale watching in the south west. They were the first company to offer tours, and have done so for 20 years.
  • Geographe Maritime Whale Watching & Bay Cruises offers a marine biologist crew, who give you an accurate and educational commentary. (operates August – November, Port Geographe, Busselton only)
  • Jet Adventures will give you a more adventurous view with their Whale Safaris aboard their purpose built jet boat, the Exhilarator. (operates September-December, Dunsborough only)

Curious by nature, whales will naturally approach as they are just as interested in us as we are in them. And, as skipper of Legend Charters Dean Jensen says: “They’re so inquisitive they will often swim and play alongside the boat and even brush up against the boat, but they never charge. It’s not in their gentle nature. If they lose interest they will disappear but we never interfere with their patterns.”

It almost makes you wonder if they’re collecting information about us too. Naturaliste Charters owner Paul Cross has the longest established whale-watching company, which was founded in 1993. Using highly researched marine science skippers on a purpose-built vessel Paul recommends you keep watching the ocean.

“Take your eye off the camera and enjoy the experience. It’s all about the beautiful remote location you can’t get anywhere else,” he says. He also suggests taking sea-sickness medication, particularly in Flinders Bay in Augusta where the conditions are rough – and most definitely for Bremer Bay which is a new market and about 100km east of Albany, where data collecting of killer and sperm whales is all part of the tour.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

For those that prefer to keep their feet dry, these on-shore spots are touted as good bets to catch the ocean giants from land:

WINTER LOOK OUTS

Cape Leeuwin & Flinders Bay, Augusta. Numerous vantage points are along Leeuwin Road and enjoy fantastic views from the top of the
lighthouse.
Hamelin Bay 18km north of Augusta, south of the boat ramp, follow the boardwalk up to the limestone headland.
Numerous sightings were seen at Gnarabup last year. If you are lucky see them leaping whilst sipping a coffee at White Elephant or venture up the dunes behind Grunters for a higher viewpoint.

SPRING TIME CHECK POINTS

Cape Naturaliste Lookout Platform and Lighthouse 13km from Dunsborough take the 1.3km return walk from the lighthouse car park.
Shelley Cove, part of Bunker Bay 13km from Dunsborough walk from the car park to the viewing platform above the limestone cliffs.
Canal Rocks Rotary Lookout 4km south of Yallingup take the 400m walk from the car park.

All operators offer food on board and Paul Szczypior from All Sea Charters is very excited to announce he serves freshly barbequed abalone during their morning tours and local cheeses in the afternoon for intimate tour groups of just 12 people.

Like many of the tour operators, he also has a 99% success rate and guarantees another tour for free in the rare instance where there isn’t a sighting.

It’s estimated each season attracts thousands of whales, most of which are humpbacks which have been steadily increasing in population since the ban on whaling.

Courting and mating rituals are in full swing in Flinders Bay as the males sing underwater to attract the females; many witness the wondrous whale song themselves.

They’re generally more playful in the sheltered Geographe Bay with their calves where the weather is usually milder. Humpbacks and southern right whales frolic in Augusta’s Flinders Bay from late May to late August. The best time to visit Geographe Bay is from September to early December, for Humpback whales and their calves.

Humpbacks continue north to their breeding ground in warmer water, before popping into the Geographe Bay on their way back to Antarctica with their calves. November is the ideal time to see blue whales, and, although there are no guarantees, any number of wildlife like sea birds, New Zealand fur seals and dolphins, may also partake in a spot of human watching.

whale watching margaret river regionSee them up close

The only way to really gauge the size and agility of the gigantic whales is to encounter them up close on a whale watching cruise. You’ll be in awe as you witness a small part of their magnificent journey and their antics along the way!

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