8 October 2019

A true life experience, whale watching on the Sapphire Coast

| Lisa Herbert
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A calf breaches, testing its power

A calf breaches, testing its power. Photo: Dave Rogers.

The coastline of the Far South Coast of NSW is mostly wild and pristine places, with thousands of hectares of National Park, hundreds of beaches and dozens of estuaries, rivers and creeks, and an incredible array of ocean wildlife that is easy to enjoy and engage with.

Flying dolphin

There is abundant wildlife evident beside the whales. Photo: Pete Hannan.

The ocean is home to the greatest abundance of life on our planet, millions of plants and animals, from tiny single-celled organisms to the gargantuan blue whale, the planet’s largest living animal.

If you can handle it, whales are more active in rougher weather

If you can handle it, whales are more active in rougher weather. Photo: Pete Hannan.

Currently, thousands of whales are cruising down the ‘Humpback Highway’ at our front door, on their yearly migration back to summer feeding grounds in Antarctica.

A humpback whale

Up close and personal. You can really study the anatomy of humpback whales from this distance. Photo: Ron Webb.

Many of these whales are bringing their young calves with them on the long journey, stopping to rest, play and feed in our coastal waters, often tantalisingly close to shore.

In the 1960s, there were just over 100 individual humpbacks. The humpback population has recovered steadily over the years since Australia’s ban on whaling in 1979.

An Australian Fur Seal

An Australian fur seal checks out the tourists. Photo: Pete Hannan.

From now until the end of November, the Sapphire Coast is a perfect place to get out on the ocean and catch sight of these amazing creatures as they spy-hop, mug and breach in their joyous ways, seemingly showing off for, and often approaching, the boats for a look at us.

Whale watching on Humpback Highway

In under 10 minutes, you can reach the Humpback Highway. Photo: Ron Webb.

Humpback whales are renowned for their aerobatic behaviour. It’s not unusual for them to leap out of the water, roll in the air with their huge pectoral fins outstretched like wings and crash spectacularly back into the water – a behaviour known as ‘breaching’.

They can travel up to 8 km per hour, but during their long migration south, they average only 1.6 km an hour, resting and socialising along the way, which is great for anyone who wants to enjoy the show.

A breaching Humpback

Breaching Humpbacks blast out of the ocean and crash back into the water. Photo: Dave Rogers.

Twice a day, from mid-August to late November, Merimbula Marina’s vessel True Blue makes its way through the Merimbula Bar and into the big blue. On board are tourists and nature lovers, and always a handful of avid photographers.

Two whales

Here’s looking at you kid. Photo: Ron Webb.

You can spot them, an aloof group of humans, standing quietly together, eyes fixed on the ocean, cameras and lenses held at the ready. The images produced by these ever-present whale-spotters are spectacular, but even snapping away with your phone can reap rewards.


Seabirds are also a feature of a day on the Sapphire seas. Photo: Pete Hannan.

Merimbula Marina is a family-owned and operated business. Jessica and Simon Millar and their kids Mikah and James, along with their great crew (including the famous whale-spotting kelpie, Rosie) believe in responsible and respectful whale watching practices. They also have a deep love of the ocean and all its amazing creatures and enjoy sharing this with passengers – “our guests”, Jessica says.

A whale's pectoral fin

Up close these pectoral fins are impressive. Photo: Pete Hannan.

I asked Jess if doing this twice a day, for around three months every year, if she and the crew get tired of the whales.

“No! I think if you got tired of the displays and all the images, you’d have to take a good, hard look at yourself!”

A whale's tail

“Don’t take your eyes off the ocean for a second”. Photo: Dave Rogers.

Local photographer Pete Hannan says “I love being out at sea, and having the opportunity to see and photograph not only whales but the birds, seals and dolphins close up as well”.

Up close with a humpback

The power and majesty of a Humpback up close. Photo: Pete Hannan.

“Going out with a professional outfit like Merimbula Marina has given me wonderful opportunities to observe these beautiful animals.”

A young humpback enjoys itself

A rare sighting of a Southern Right Whale. Photo: Ron Webb.

Tathra photographer Dave Rogers says photographing whales gets your adrenalin pumping”.

“They are both exciting and technically challenging to capture. The photography challenge is to capture all the different behaviours, from a simple blow to a full-on airborne breach.”

Whale's face

The more you look at the whales, the more beautiful they are. Photo: Wayne Reynolds.

“It’s still amazing after all these years,” according to Jess. “The close encounters, the spy-hopping and mugging and breaching, we don’t get tired of it”.

Photographer Wayne Reynolds is on the True Blue most days and has been capturing whale images from Merimbula since 2003. He has thousands of amazing images but these ones are shots from the last few days!


Whale watching is awe-inspiring and educational. Photo: Wayne Reynolds.

Dave Rogers has a tip for those wanting to photograph these amazing giants – “don’t take your eyes off the ocean for a second!”

A Dwarf Minke whale

A rare sight among the humpbacks, a dwarf minke whale. Photo: Ron Webb.

The Millars also run whale cruises in Sydney, and Jess says “our Sydney cruises depart from Darling Harbour and are a wonderful way to see both the sights of Sydney Harbour and the majesty of the humpback whale”.

A humpback whale

Some images truly portray the power of the humpback whale. Photo: Wayne Reynolds.

“It’s pretty special to be able to hang out with whales in Australia’s largest city.”

Once more unto the breach

Water, whales and beautiful coastline. What’s not to love? Photo: Wayne Reynolds

Check out the daily photos from Ron Webb and Wayne Reynolds plus whale reports on Merimbula Marina’s Facebook page. For information whale watching, visit the Merimbula Marina website or the Sydney site.

Having a whale of a time, just off Merimbula's Short Point. Photo: Dave Rogers

Having a whale of a time, just off Merimbula’s Short Point. Photo: Dave Rogers.

There’s more from David Rogers online here on Instagram @davey_rogers.

Check out Peter Hannan online here and via Instagram @phannanphoto.

Original Article published by Lisa Herbert on About Regional.

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