A few weeks ago I had a special birthday surprise and was taken Humpback whale watching with the Spirit of Gold Coast. This has been on my bucket list for a while and I had spent countless hours on the Gold Coast beaches searching for these giant creatures, which only resulted in seeing a few whales that ended up being boats …. Needless to say I was very excited to get on board and go see these huge mammals in their natural habitat!
When we got to the boat I was initially surprised by the crowds of children on board (we went on a weekday so we thought all the kids would be in school). We didn’t know it at the time, but we went during an Australian school holiday.
TIP: Make sure that you don’t book your tour on a school holiday and try to go on a week day so that the boat is less crowded and you can see easily. Different countries have different school holidays so don’t assume anything and do a quick Google search before booking your trip. This is a good rule for any major tourist attraction.
As we headed out to sea we got to see the set that was being built for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, being shot here in the Gold Coast. The set was really cool because the entire island was constructed for the movie. It’s hard to see in the picture, but they had built an entire pirate boat and little village on the island.
Once we got out to sea the crew kept spotting the whales in the distance but the passengers weren’t able to see them. I quickly learned that whale spotting is kind of an art. Even though the whales are huge, they easily blend in and can hold their breath underwater for up to 45 minutes, so getting to see them surface is actually really lucky!
To be honest, I was a little bit disappointed at first because I had unrealistic expectations. I had looked at so many Instagram photos of whale watching, so I was expecting whales to be jumping up all around us. However, once we got the hang of spotting the whales we started to see them everywhere.
TIP: The trick to spotting whales is to look for “the blow”, which is a large cloud of water that the whale produces as it exhales and breaks the surface.
Over the course of the trip we saw dolphins, an adolescent whale, a large male whale, and a mother and calf. We saw the large male whale doing multiple tale slaps and pec slapping (when the whale lies on its side with its fins out). He was clearly putting on a show for us and the crew told us that they had never seen a whale behave like this before because he was clearly trying to show us who was boss. We were also very lucky to see a mother and a calf, which the crew told us was also very rare to see. Unfortunately they were mostly on the other side of the boat so I didn’t get a picture of them.
TIP: Pick your space on the boat and commit to it. The whales can appear anywhere and if you start running around one will definitely pop up where you were just standing and you’ll miss it. We were pretty luckily because most of the whales appeared on our side of the boat but the captain was really nice and would move the boat around so that everyone got to see the whale; so if you go with Spirit of the Gold Coast stay in your spot.
Overall it was a great day because I got to see Humpback whales for the first time and search for Migaloo. Migaloo (‘White Fella”) is a famous whale in Australia because he is a unique white whale. Every whale watching tour looks for Migaloo but it is very rare to see him. Migaloo has his own website and Facebook page with over 10,000 followers. Sadly we didn’t get to see him this time but I hope to go on another tour this season to look for him. He was recently spotted in New Zealand so I have high hopes!
If you are in the Gold Coast during whale watching season (June – October) I would recommend going to see the Humpback Whales with the Spirit of Gold Coast. The boat wasn’t the newest or fanciest but the company was great because the staff were very fun, friendly and knowledgeable. The company also has a 99% success rate of spotting whales and if you don’t see them you can come back for free. Most importantly though, the ship was very respectful of the whales and gave them their space while still allowing us to get close to them, which is very important for conservation. I highly recommend this experience; it is so much better than anything you will ever see in a zoo or a park.
Below are two videos from my whale watching experience on July 3rd, 2015 (Excuse the screaming, I really had no control over myself by this point):
Here are a few funny pictures that I accidentally took because the boat was so crowded (but really because I lost all control of myself from all the excitement of seeing the whales).