|Humpback spy-hopping. Pic by Rick Franks|
Prolonged, multiple and unusually close encounters with multiple Humpback Whales were the highlight of the pelagic bird watching trip off the Sunshine Coast on Sunday August 27, 2017. No particularly unusual birds were encountered due to relatively calm conditions, though winter records of Tahiti Petrel and Sooty Tern were interesting.
Hopes were high with a forecast of winds from the right direction (E-SE) at 15 knots as we departed Mooloolaba Marina at 6.35am on another clear winter day. A Sooty Oystercatcher on the rocks at the Mooloolah River mouth was unexpected. This was the second pelagic foray on our 17m boat, Crusader 1, operated by Sunshine Coast family company Sunshine Coast Afloat
. The deep-hulled vessel ploughed effortlessly through a swell of up to 2m that had been whipped up by strong winds offshore in the preceding days.
|Humpback Whale with calf|
We spotted quite a few Humpback Whales on the way out and a couple of small groups of Hutton’s Shearwaters, along with the first Wedge-tailed Shearwaters of the season. After a few stops we reached the shelf at 9.10am at 400m, 32 nautical miles offshore: 26.42.174S; 153.42.680E. We had an excellent encounter with a pod of Humpbacks in 300m and that set the pattern for the whole time we were out on the shelf, with whales frequently in sight and often venturing close to the boat. It is unusual to find Humpbacks out on the shelf and to see so many this day was quite extraordinary.
The first Providence Petrel soon appeared as began laying a berley trail and we were to have small numbers of these about while we off the shelf.
Several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels put in an appearance along with a few more Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.
A single Tahiti Petrel was unexpected at this time of the year. A couple more Hutton’s Shearwaters flew by.
|Sooty Tern – Pic by Malcolm Graham|
Two Sooty Terns were seen distantly and Crested Terns were constantly about the vessel. A Tiger Shark was seen to surface briefly.
|Humpback Whale head’s encrusted barnacles|
The Humpback Whale encounters got better and better with the huge mammals on several occasions swimming under the vessel in clear view. These interactions culminated in a superb performance by an adult female and attendant adult male which in unison spy hopped several times, raising their massive, barnacle-encrusted heads above the water within a few metres of the boat to check us out.
|Humpback Whale – Pic by Rick Franks|
The whales were so close that my prime 400 lens was of little use; thanks to Rick Franks for some of these images. It was as well that the whales put on a show because the forecast fresh south-easterlies did not materialise, with a gentle breeze struggling to reach 8-10knots despite the vigorous swell. After drifting 3 nautical miles eastward to 800m, we turned around at 12.45pm to head back.
We saw plenty more Humpbacks and more Hutton’s Shearwaters, some not far from shore. We managed reasonable views of most shearwaters and there did not appear to be any Fluttering among them.
|Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphins|
We had a nice encounter with a large pod of Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin, including a small juvenile.
We found a Brown Booby perched on a trawler as the winds picked up quickly, sharply and belatedly.
We returned to the marina at 3.40pm, spotting an Eastern Reef Egret perched incongruously by the swimming pool of a canal home. Again, all aboard were impressed by the comfort, space and amenities of Crusader 1, along with the enthusiasm of its crew.
PARTICIPANTS: Greg Roberts (organiser), Toby Imhoff (skipper), Zoe Williams (deckhand), Chris Attewell, Duncan Cape, George Chapman, Jo Culinan, Robyn Duff, Rick Franks, Malcolm Graham, Matteo Grilli, John Gunning, Jane Hall, Mary Hynes, Russ Lamb, Davydd McDonald, John Merton, Trevor Ross, Eske Ross, Jim Sneddon, Raja Stephenson, Ged Tranter, Jamie Walker, Chris Watts, Chris Wiley.
SPECIES: Total (Maximum at one time)
Providence Petrel 25 (5)
Tahiti Petrel 1 (1)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 15 (3)
Hutton’s Shearwater 22 (6)
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel 10 (2)
Brown Booby 1 (1)
Crested Tern 70 (20)
Sooty Tern 2 (2)
Pied Cormorant 2 (2)
Humpback Whale 80 (9)
Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphin 25 (10)