As unlikely as it sounds, it is possible to go whale watching by bicycle. However, you do need to be somewhere near a whale migration route, and it helps to have a telescope. From September to November, humpback whales make their way south along the Queensland coast, returning to their Antarctic feeding grounds. So I decided to get myself a telescope and go see me some whales.
I spent two days on the Sunshine Coast, cycling back and forth between Maroochydore and Noosa, trying out various whale-spotting locations along the way and clocking up 100km riding in total. After trying my luck at Coolum and Peregian Beach, where I have seen whales before, I hit the jackpot at Sunrise Beach.
As I rolled into the little picnic shed at Sunrise Beach, I could see the spouts of two whales even before I hopped off my bike. Though I am next to useless at estimating distances, especially over water, I’m guessing they were about 500 metres offshore. I hurriedly set up the tripod and attached the telescope, trying to keep my eyes on the area where I saw the spouts. I had no idea if the whales would stay where I’d seen them, or quickly move along the coast. As it turned out, I needn’t have hurried. These whales weren’t in a hurry to go anywhere, and were in the mood for some showing off. For the next half hour or so, I watched them breach and splash the surface with their fins and tails. It was exhilarating. I had a great view with the scope and could see them in excellent detail. The surge of water from a 40 ton whale crashing down has to be seen to be believed.
I returned to the same spot on the second day, and both whales were still there. Well, I assume it was the same pair. They were less gregarious on day two. No breaching, just gently surfacing and diving. Watching them in a more placid state was still a rewarding experience.
You may notice that there are no photos of the whales in this post. That’s because while I have the equipment to see them, I don’t (yet) have the equipment to photograph them. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that they’re out there. For the brand junkies, my scope is a Celestron C70 Mini Mak Angled Spotting Scope and the tripod is a Slik F740. It’s a very good combination for my purposes. The scope has more than enough magnification for whale spotting, and the scope and tripod weigh just under a kilo each, so are easily transportable in bike panniers. Though I don’t have any whale photos, I did manage to get some shots of an osprey riding the thermals above me, and a pair of lovely yellow-tailed cockatoos.
Even aside from the prospect of seeing whales, the coastal strip is a great place for cycling. Beautiful beach vistas and some very nice bike paths through the coastal forest. And everyone was very friendly and sociable, seeing me roll up on a bicycle and rigging up a telescope. Something of a novelty I suppose. Lots of people had whale watching stories to share. It’s such a thrilling sight and clearly makes an impression on anyone who sees them.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority estimates the current humpback population to be about 15,000. It’s a strong recovery as whaling was only banned here in the 1960s. At the time, it was thought that less than 5% of the pre-whaling population was left. I’m very glad that we now share the coast peacefully with these magnificent and intelligent animals.