There are no whales here Mate

Being a researcher has its rewards and its challenges.  The rewards are pretty obvious, while the challenges are many and varied.  One of the biggest challenges faced when embarking upon a study in a new area  is trying to glean some local knowledge about whales.

“Have you seen any whales lately?” is usually met with bewildered amazement.  “Whales? Whales as in “whales? There are no whales here Mate.”

Believe it or not, that is usually the standard response to our query about whales.  We have learned that most commercial water users pretty much stick to what they know: if the fish, they look for fish; if the dive, they go diving.  Most boaties don’t go looking for whales and even if they see one, they quickly head the other way.

So it was no surprise this morning when Annie made her rounds of the marina (passing out her business card and asking some new captains to call when they see whales), that she was greeted with the “You are wasting your time, there are no whales here Mate” mantra.

“Boy, the locals are grumpy this morning,” Annie said as she climbed on board. 

“Forget about it, let’s go find some of those non-existent whales.” I replied. We already have a good number of captains in port supporting our efforts, no sense wasting our time on the ‘non-believers’.

For the next eight hours we survey over 85 miles along the edge of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) under stormy skies riddled   with 15 – 20 knots of wind and 1.5 meter seas.  Amanda grabbed her first looked of the GBR and later said, “After three hours of searching and not finding a whale, I kept thinking about last year’s data logs and remembering you and Annie went four days at a time before finding a whale, and I now see how that is possible – this area is huge and remote.”

We survey past the Low Isles, and head east to the edge of Opal Reef, and then cruise towards Undine Reef and continue north to Pratt Rock.

Blow!  A subadult whale, likely 2-5 years of age makes an appearance.  The immature, 35 foot-long whale performs a fluke-up dive and disappears.

Eight minutes later, the whale re-appears heading north, blows four times and throws its flukes high above the rolling seas.  Annie has the Canon 7-D humming and quickly clicks off a dozen shots.

A big grin appears on Annie’s face and she turns to ‘high-five’ Amanda.  “Now that’s exciting,” she says.

“No, that’s a whale Mate,” I reply.

So much for local knowledge.



Greg Kaufman


Anonymous says:

When you say that the sand cay is exposed during low tide, how much of that island is under water? Really cool shot