whale watching

When you live in Western Australia you become a bit blase with your wildlife terms.

It’s easy to trot off the tongue statements like: “Oh watch out for kangaroos when you’re driving,” or, “Let’s go and have a coffee at the waterfront and spot some dolphins,” or as we did this weekend, “Let’s go whale watching.”

whale watching
A humpback whale calf leaping out of the water, photo by Doug Robertson from Legend Charters.

In WA we think it’s pretty normal to be able to do these things (although as a ‘blow-in’ I am always a little bit Wowed by it all). Whereas, if I say something like this in a casual way on the phone to someone in England for instance,  they think I’m just showing off.

The big WOW with whales is that from September to December, migrating humpbacks follow the Leeuwin current to the South West and Geographe Bay is their last “resting place” before they make the long journey south to Antarctica

Whale Watching near Busselton

I was very lucky to be invited by Legend Charters this weekend to go whale watching in Geographe Bay, departing form Port Geographe which is close to Busselton.

whale watching

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a teensy bit excited, because the trip had been cancelled the previous weekend due to bad weather, and today Legend Charters owner, Dean Jensen, said although the conditions were a ‘bit lumpy out there’  it was great weather for whale sightings.

whale watching

From my journal

… At 9.30am we ease our way out of Port Geographe and slowly motor past a lot of very fancy waterfront homes. Skipper, Dean gives us the safety talk about life jackets and life rafts, while two other crew members, Doug and Ricky are busy steering and handing out tea and coffee to us punters.

My excitement is mounting and I’m scouring the sea for whales. We head out into the ocean and everyone is peering into the distance hoping for a sighting.

Nothing. Maybe it’s going to be a bad day for whales after all.

whale watching

Then Dean chirps up from the top deck: “4 Miles ahead on the horizon there are whales breaching, see them?”

No I can’t!  I think he must have magnifier sunnies on. I’m amazed because I can’t see a thing, just the horizon and choppy grey swell .

“We’ll be there in 15 minutes,” says Dean, and it’s full speed ahead.

I’m impressed. I can’t even get to the supermarket in a designated time frame.

As we near them there is a collective, “Oh Wow”. Some of us clamber onto the top deck for a better view.

“We can’t take the boat closer than 100 metres, but if they come towards us, that’s ok,” says Dean. “They like the noise of the boat, so we don’t need to cut the engine.”

We inch as close as we can, and then I realise that the whales are coming closer to us. My heart beats a little faster.

“Look 11 o’clock! There’s a female and two calves – that’s a calf  jumping – the female is about 45 feet – I think there might be  4 of them. No, there’s 6!” Dean says with enthusiasm.

“Sometimes they’re like teenage boys,” says Dean, “The bigger the group the naughtier they are. And they often jump when there’s a Westerly wind. We’re lucky today.”

After a while the whales stop breaching and Dean says that they’re probably watching us to see what we’re doing.

“We’ll go to the side for a bit,” he says, and soon enough the whales are active again.

whale watching
Heading out to sea we passed The Busselton Jetty and chugging along it we spotted the tourist train which runs its length.

A whale can weigh in around 45,000 kilos, Dean tells us and the boat weighs around 20,000 kilos. I watch another whale glide out of the water and it slaps its tail with a huge splash. I’m glad that we are on a reasonably big boat – lily livered that I am.

“That’s a tail slap, says Dean, it’s a form of aggression. Did you see that? That was a pectoral slap.”

I think it looks as if they’re waving to us.

It’s exciting and exhilarating being out here on the open sea in Geographe Bay with the sea breeze in my hair and whales just there, right there down below us.

They are inching closer to us again, rollling and splashing and waving. The boat rocks and rolls, it’s choppy out here. We are on the top deck and I try to juggle my phone and note pad while hanging on to the railing.

whale watching, doug robertson
It’s incredible how these massive creatures propel themselves out of the water. Photo by Doug Robertson from Legend Charters

“Hold tight!” says Dean as we bob on another choppy section of sea.

“When it looks like they’re waving at you they’re doing a pectoral slap using their pectoral fin,” Doug tell me. “When they spin, they’re doing a pectoral roll. Breaching is when they leap out of the water and land on their back. They also do a head lunge and a roundout, but I’m getting technical,” he laughs. “Just watch them!”

The mother whale breaches and I can clearly sea the barnacles on her head.

They come close to the boat again as if they’re checking us out and finally after about 45 minutes of swimming along beside us they dive down and head for the deep.

Then it’s time for an Aussie morning tea consisting of tea, coffee and hand made Lamingtons. Nobody is feeling nauseous when they see the delicious Lamingtons.

But everyone is talking about whales.

whale watching

Fun Whale Watching Facts

Humpback whales are the 5th largest species of whales.
They can grow to a length of 50 feet and weigh 50 tonnes.
Their lifespan is from 45 to 100 years.

“Whales communicate under water and they can hear each others song for around 80kms. They sing to attract females. Females don’t sing they just talk,” Doug tells me. “On the east coast they have a different song to the west coast, a different tune. One study on the east coast identified both tunes, and it’s believed that two of our male whales had migrated there in search of females – a long way to go for a date!”

Fast Facts

  • Legend Charters run Whale Watching tours from Augusta from June to August and from Busselton September to November.
  • Small group sizes.
  • Water level viewing deck.
  • View Humpbacks or Southern Right whales.
  • 99% sighting rate. Free return visit if you don’t see whales.
  • Web: www.legendcharters.net.au
  • Tel: 0419 908 742

The Deck

After our whale viewing experience we walked along the jetty straight into a lovely restaurant called The Deck.

It’s set on a fabulous waterfront location with views of  Port Geographe Marina.  If you don’t go for lunch then go early for dinner to catch the sunset, and don’t forget the popular Sunday ‘Sesh often with live music.

whale watching, the deck

Outside there are cloth shade sails and numerous outside seating arrangements all with watery views of the canals and boat moorings.

We walk into a modern, light, spacious lounge area with a central column fire feature, and a long bar which leads on to a well appointed dining area. In the centre of the nautically themed dining room is a centre piece of a replica model yacht.

As we’ve had such a stunning time whale watching we decide to celebrate and choose the Vasse Felix Silver Knight, a non vintage, extra brut, sparkling wine made in the ‘Methode Traditionelle‘ from chardonnay, pinot and meunier grapes. It’s named after the winner of the 1971 Melbourne Cup, so as we’re getting close to cup day we deem this bottle doubly appropriate!

whale watching, the deck

From the menu I choose:-

Fresh fish of the day (which was salmon) with grilled tiger prawns, creamy mash, saffron beurre blanc, asparagus and side salad.

and Dave had …

200gr beef fillet with grilled Exmouth tiger prawns, ahnd cut chips, baby spinach, broccolini and red wine jus.

As you know this blog isn’t a foodie review blog, so all I’m going to say is, “By gosh the food was good, and what a great ending to a beautiful morning.”

Fast Facts

Disclaimer: My Whale Watching experience and lunch at The Deck were complimentary. All opinions are my own.

You might also like: 8 Weird and Wonderful facts about dolphins and Dolphin discovery centre and why a dolphin encounter can be life changing

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  1. Wow, what a day you had! Aren’t the Humpbacks the most fascinating creatures? Their massive size and incredible aerobatic skills are astonishing. We see them here on the East Coast at this time of year as well. I could just sit on the ocean front all day and watch them if I was able.

  2. It’s great to hear that the whale watching operators in Australia have responsible tourism guidelines such as “no closer than 100 metres” as I’ve been to places where the boats are literally chasing the whales around so closely I was worried we’d hit one. It sounds like an amazing day and what a grand finale of a lunch at The Deck!

  3. I must say I haven’t been on a whale watching tour. But we did go on a sea-lion watching tour in Esperance once…a long time ago….and a dolphin tour in Bunbury. And we did see whales at play off the Great Australian Bite. But nothing like this whale watching tour you enjoyed Jo. Another thing to add to my list I think. And the Deck sounds scrumptious.
    Thanks for another great post Jo. No wonder you have been named in the Top 5 travel blogs! Congratulations!

  4. It’s hard not to be wowed by whales – by sheer size alone. I had a remarkable experience this past summer. While on a kayaking trip in British Columbia, a humpback whale swam under my kayak – no photos but lots of people in our group witnessed it and my expression. They feel really, really big when you’re in a little bit of a boat.

  5. We loved sharing this experience with our visitors on Kaua’i when we lived there. Amazing creatures. I felt a special kinship when I learned the babies can gain 5 lbs an hour. It seems as though I can do that, too! Cheers!

  6. Wow! What an amazing experience and I have to confess to being a bit jealous! Hoping to see humpbacks off the Ecuadoran coast but the season may have already passed us by. Until then, it’s on my top 10… Great photos and thanks for sharing.

  7. Fabulous story and pictures. I’ve glimpsed spouting only in Alaska and Southern California but you had a stellar day.

  8. Thanks Anita. Let’s hope some are still sticking around off Ecuardor when you get there.

  9. Good grief. Baby whales can gain 5 lbs an hour? That’s huge Betsy! Great fact. Hahah, oh yes me too – especially if I even look at a donut! Thank you 🙂

  10. Yes, it’s one of those ‘lifer’ experiences – scary, excited, mysterious. Thanks for popping by Gypsy Nesters.

  11. Oh gosh, Leigh – now that would have been an adrenalin rush! Can imagine the look on your face!

  12. Oh thank you Jill x I think you’d love this trip, and it’s so close, so no having to travel for hours on end to get to do it.

  13. Yes, Michele, we were very impressed by the safety and responsibility standards that Legend Charters had.

  14. Hi Kathy! Yes, their aerobatic skills are phenomenal, and amazing … and so much fun to watch. I’ve heard that there’s a bit of competition between East Coast and West Coast regarding whale numbers 😉

  15. Sounds like a wonderful day. I’m often uncomfortable on the water, especially if it’s a “bit lumpy”, but I think the sight of those whales would be worth it.

  16. Nice story. I’ve always avoided going out on a boat for whale watching here in Northern California because I’ve heard so many sea-sick stories. But I have had the pleasure of watching whales breach from the shore in Mendocino. Quite amazing.

  17. Thanks Nancie. Dave’s shots were great but Doug’s shots were awesome – he has lots of practice and opportunity but a real knack for ‘the moment’.

  18. I think ginger tablets or sea sick tablets for the faint hearted are good Carole – it’s such an exciting adventure.

  19. Great post; I love watching whales. We were at Gnaraloo station last year and spent many hours sitting on the shore (or cliffs) watching them swim by as the migrated south. Truly amazing creatures

  20. Wow, that must have been awesome Aaron – and pretty remote I’d imagine.

  21. There are some amazing places to see whales in North America and I’ve been soooo lucky to see them off of the California coast a few times. Just as your post so vividly expresses…it’s a must see experience for everyone at least once! Great write up, Johanna, and I hope all is well with you 🙂

  22. Thanks Mike. I expect spotting whales off the California coast is remarkable too and yes, whale watching really is something that everyone should experience because it is so unique and wonderful.

  23. Whales are such wondrous creatures. What a terrific experience to have so many sightings in one go. And, a great vocabulary lesson as well. Thanks Jo!

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