Sports-mad Melbourne has a public holiday for the AFL Grand Final at the end of September. I couldn’t care less about the Grand Final (shhh), so I took the opportunity to spend a weekend in the sunshine on the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast is known as a summer destination, but visitors who venture to Queensland’s famous beach city between in winter and spring are rewarded with the opportunity to spot humpback whales during their migration to and from the Antarctic.
From June-November every year, the east coast of Australia essentially becomes a humpback highway. After a summer spent feeding on krill in Antarctic waters, they migrate north from June-August to warmer sub-tropical waters where they will mate and give birth. From September-November, you can spot them migrating south, back towards to the Southern Ocean, where they will spend the summer.
Whale Watching on the Gold Coast
Spirit operates out of Mariner’s Cove which is about 15 minutes from Surfers Paradise.
This was my second time whale watching, but the first time I’d done on the Gold Coast. My first whale watching experience with Brisbane Whale Watching was in Moreton Bay in June, when the whales are heading north to give birth. What I loved about going later in the season, in October on the Gold Coast, was the chance to spot whale calves with their mothers. We saw so many!
Father whales play no role in the lives of their young, so the added protection of a third whale is important for humpbacks. Mother and baby whales are often escorted by a third whale, either an adolescent male or a mature female.
We were lucky enough to see some famous whale acrobatics, performed by one of the adolescent male humpbacks escorting a mother and baby. He breached several times and was rolling around in the ocean, just off the back of the boat.
The other lure of whale watching on the Gold Coast, especially for photographers, is the opportunity to capture a photo of a breaching whale against the striking backdrop of the Surfers Paradise skyline. Unfortunately, the whales we saw weren’t in a position for me to get this shot, but the views of the city from the water were a fresh perspective all the same.
A marine biologist narrated the cruise, providing insight into the whales we were seeing, their behaviour and current research and conservation work.
We’d been spotting whales from the balcony of the beachfront apartment we were staying in, but even with binoculars they were barely more than a flash of a fin on the horizon. Seeing the whales up close is awe-inspiring and humbling, and whale watching easily tops my list as one of the best ways to spend the day.
There has never been a better time to go whale watching on the Gold Coast, as the humpback population is back up at around 25,000, which is the highest it has been since the whaling industry decimated the species in the 19th and 20th centuries. On the off chance that you don’t see any whales, Spirit of Gold Coast will have you back on board for another trip that season, for free.
From Whaling to Whale Watching
Whaling was Australia’s first primary industry, beginning in the 19th century after European colonisation. New technologies in the 20th century such as harpoon guns and steam-driven whaling boats and pushing the whale population to the brink of extinction.
Initially, whaling boats hunted southern right whales and blue whales, but when their numbers dwindled, hunters turned their harpoons towards humpbacks. The International Whaling Commission banned humpback whaling in the Southern Hemisphere in 1963, but the population had already been reduced to just 100 humpback whales, which was 3.5-5% of their pre-whaling population. Whales from the Soviet Union continued illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean, between 1947-1973. In less than 30 years, they killed more than 48,000 humpback whales.
Even in Australia, whaling continued until 1979, focusing mostly on sperm whales. Fortunately, the industry stopped being viable as as populations plummeted and public attitude towards whaling changed. and resulted in the Australian government launching an inquiry into whaling and installing a permanent ban on all whaling.
The humpback whale population has been recovering steadily at a rate of around 10% p.a., and the population is estimated to be around 25,000 now, which is back to the pre-whaling population level.
It’s so refreshing to hear a good news story about the environment, and its an encouraging example of geotourism that celebrates the natural world without harming it. I haven’t stopped gushing about the whales since I got back to Melbourne. A morning out on the open ocean and encountering such majestic creatures in their natural habitat is for me, the epitome of putting yourself in the way of beauty.
Go whale watching on the Gold Coast:
- Spirit of Gold Coast
- Season runs June-November
- 2.5 hour cruise, $99 per adult $69 per child
Have you been whale watching? Would you like to?
Thank you to Spirit of Gold Coast Whale Watching for hosting me, as always, all opinions are my own.