December until April is feeding time for whales in Antartica, however, when breeding time comes they must leave for warmer waters. Their young, born with only a thin coating of blubber, wouldn’t survive the first few months of their lives in the freezing waters, so the parents travel up towards the Equator to give birth. The adult whales don’t feed again until they return to their feeding grounds in November, losing an estimated 25 – 50% of their body weight between their last meal in April, and their next meal seven to eight months later.
By June their babies are born, and they can be seen heading back down the coastline of Australia. Whilst the mums don’t feed at all for approximately seven months, they frequently stop close to shore to rest, and to feed their calves who need to develop some insulating blubber before they reach the krill rich, icy waters of Antartica.
By the time they’re passing the bays close to where we live, the adults are feeding their young and resting as much as possible before they leave the protected waters close to Australia’s shoreline and head into the open waters which will take them to Antartica. Whale watching is now a big industry with whale watching cruises taking thousands of people out each season to get an up close sighting of these fascinating ocean mammals. Being a local though, we know the bays where, on a good day, its possible to see dozens of whales only a few metres off shore, with no boat required. From September to November we often head up to the bays between Dunsborough and Cape Naturalist for a chance encounter of seeing some up really close. Some days we’re lucky, some days we’re not.
Sunday we put on on our walking boots, packed a picnic lunch and headed towards the Cape. First stop was Point Picquet, which is a consistently good spot for close whale encounters. It’s so good in fact, that there’s usually volunteers there from daylight to dusk recording all the whale sightings. The volunteer on duty when we arrived advised us we’d just missed a Blue going by, and that three Blues had been past that morning. Damn – we never seem to be there at the right time to see a Blue. He showed us a photo – it was HUGE! We waited around for a few minutes. A few humpbacks were out towards the horizon, to far away though to get a good view.
We moved around to the adjoining Gannet Rock bay where there’s a picnic table to have our lunch. Gannet Rock is only about 1/2 kilometre from Point Picquet anyway, so close enough to get back there quickly if a Blue came through, or if a Humpback came close to shore and started breaching.
No whales showed up so we headed in the opposite direction for a coastal walk, enjoying the wildflowers, and coastal scenery as we walked.
Wouldn’t you just know it, when we were at the furtherest point away from Point Piquet, but not so far away that we couldn’t see whale activity, some splashes in the distance caught my eye. Sure enough, a Humpy was flapping and breaching right in close to the Point, but we were two and half kilometres away, to far to get back there to get a good look. Never mind, we were heading back anyway, maybe it’d hang around for a while.
By the time we arrived back the Humpy had moved on, and that’s the luck of watching anything in its natural environment. Sometimes the whales will put on the most spectacular show, better than any choreographed performance, and so close that you feel you have front row seats at the opera house. Other times they either just meander through without stopping to stay hello, or they are only visible on the far horizon getting on with their journey and picking some other place to rest further along the coast.
Not lucky enough on this occasion for front row seats to any whale performance, but what a pleasure it was to be out and about, breathing the fresh sea air, seeing the wildflowers, and enjoying this gorgeous bit of coastline. Again I’m reminded that its only by good chance that I happened to be born in the privileged Western world, and then by the good fortune afforded me in that affluent Western world to have been able to make my home close to this little piece of coastal paradise. I must never take for granted the luxuries afforded me by the luck of being born in a place that offers choices. The best way to show my appreciation is to get out there and continue to enjoy what’s on my own doorstep, to take pleasure in natures offerings, and to make the most if living in this Covid free wonderful state of Western Australia. What a pleasure it is to be living here!