Whales and Sea Turtles in Platypus Bay

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Where do the humpback whales stop to rest and play on their southern migration from the Great Barrier Reef to Antarctica? In the the shallow warm waters of Platypus Bay in northern Hervey Bay inside Fraser Island!

The weather was forecast to be good for us to watch whales again, so we set off early in the morning from Big Woody Island. Our guide books and charts showed that we could follow a channel along the beautiful sandy shore of Fraser Island. This is the largest sand island in the world, and has been declared a World Heritage Site. Hervey Bay sits in its crescent arms, and has been made a Whale Management Area, in Great Sandy Marine Park.

Mother humpback whales were still nursing their calves, fattening them up for the cold Antarctic waters. We saw several mother/calf pairs, nursing, resting, sometimes feeding, playing and socializing. There were unfortunately numerous whales with dorsal fins that had been cut by boat propellers. The mothers have eaten very little since leaving Antarctica and have used their reserves of body fat. A calf can drink 120 gallons of mother’s milk each day.

We saw a calf resting on the front of its mother’s head. One mother was lunge feeding on small fish as the calf watched. Just when our camera was not ready, two humpback whales breached together, side by side.

Soon we realized that we could hear a humpback whale singing! We first heard long moans, repeated every ten seconds or so. This continued for about an hour, then was interspersed with other sounds, all of which could be played on a cello, we think. It was magical. We could hear the song from on deck while we were watching for whales, but we heard the best sounds from inside ADAGIO’s hulls. Then we noticed that the small, light gray dolphins which had arrived were making squeaks, sort of like what a small puppy sounds like if you press its paw too hard.

We saw a lone sea turtle on the surface and wondered what it could be doing. As we approached, a second turtle’s hear appeared, and we realized that the two turtles were mating.

We set the anchor for the night in Platypus Bay, but were awakened at 0230 hours by growing swells and increasing wind, so we raised anchor and headed back to the Great Sandy Strait for more protection from the weather. The whales will still be around until end of October. We wish them well during their migration back to the waters of Antarctica.

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