After two years of restrictions due to the Covid-19 shutdown, Pacific Whale Foundation Eco-Adventures Australia (PWFEAA), an affiliate of nonprofit ocean conservation organisation Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF), is experiencing a resurgence in whale-watch tour bookings.
Although PWFEAA whale-watch ecotours were available to the Queensland market during the height of Covid, 2022 marks the first year since the pandemic that Australia is open to international visitors.
“We’re getting people from Europe, and we recently had a group from South America — it’s just fantastic to have people back again,” explains PWFEAA Operations Director and Captain Andrew Ellis, who runs whale-watch ecotours out of Hervey Bay. “The biggest thing is that for the last two years, we haven’t had much in pre-bookings — no one was planning ahead which made it a nightmare to staff and schedule whereas now our pre-bookings for the whole season are at 140 percent of 2019. We’re currently working without -past restrictions, so we safely can fill our boats again, which is just brilliant.” In fact, with all the traffic of late, Ellis is considering instituting additional outings to accommodate this year’s interest in the whale-watch offerings.
That said, Ellis is quick to point out that PWFEAA remains highly conscientious of hygiene practices initiated during Covid, such as hand washing and touchless encounters when possible, and continues implementing these precautionary basics in its operations.
Few places offer a better opportunity to see South Pacific humpback whales in their natural habitat. Hervey Bay’s whale-watch season, which runs from July through October each year with the season peak in August and September, is the perfect time to view thousands of humpbacks as they relax and rejuvenate in the relatively calm, shallow and protected waters of the bay before migrating back to Antarctic waters to feed.
Part of Australia’s Great Sandy Marine Park — a heavily regulated, pristine ecological treasure adjacent to K’Gari (Fraser Island) — Hervey Bay is renowned as a resting place for humpback mothers and calves, Ellis notes. “It’s where mums nurture and fatten up their young before swimming south again.” The warm waters of the bay are ideal for this segment of the journey, with some mothers and calves remaining for weeks at a time.
According to Ellis, the season opens with a lot of juveniles looking to make their watery mark as adults with mothers and calves arriving in mid-August to mid-September followed by a few rogue males “roaming around looking for a mate” as the season winds to a close.
Each year, PWFEAA embraces Hervey Bay whale season as an opportunity to advance PWF’s overarching mission to protect the ocean through science and advocacy and inspire environmental stewardship. Every whale-watch tour that leaves the harbour aboard Ocean Defender, the organisation’s state-of-the-art vessel specifically built for optimal whale watching and research activities, operates with singular purpose: to foster in others a deep appreciation for these magnificent marine mammals through exposure and education. Informing the public about ocean conservation and major threats, such as marine plastic debris, unsustainable tourism and climate change, impacting whales and dolphins worldwide is key in shaping the next generation of ocean advocates; it’s what drives the boat.
“We strive to share our love of whales and their ocean home through our research-based whale-watching ecotours,” Ellis explains. “While our retail outlet and research base at Urangan Harbour is open year-round, our whale-watch season is when we gain the majority of our income through our commercial operations, allowing us to provide our community with education and conservation projects throughout the year. All profits from our cruises and retail sales go to these projects, enhancing knowledge from a young age and ensuring a sustainable future for the world’s ocean.”
Boasting 360-degree panoramic views, extraordinary photo opportunities and a 40-person maximum capacity, PWFEAA’s Ultimate Whalewatch is a small-group, interactive ecotour with guaranteed whale sightings through Oct. 9 or receive a free return ticket good for up to one year.
During the approximately three-hour tour, passengers will likely witness behaviours ranging from the humpback whale’s tremendous breach, or fully body-jump clear of the water, to a gentle spy-hop in which curious whales lift their heads vertically bringing their eyes to the surface to take in their surrounds.
“When people ask what’s the best month to whale watch in Hervey Bay, we suggest visiting numerous times throughout the season as each day is different,” Ellis advises. “Come early in the season to see inquisitive juveniles, come later to see mothers nurturing and teaching their calves. In our bay, we are lucky to see whales staying for a number of days. Rather than just providing an opportunity to watch whales as they migrate, swimming north or south, here they are simply ‘hanging out’, spending their days resting, mating and looking after their newborns for a considerable period.”
Ellis admits he still gets just as excited each season seeing the first breath from the first whale as he did when he saw his first Hervey Bay humpback whale pod more than 30 years ago. “They truly are an inspiring sight, and it fills me with awe each and every time,” he says.
This experience coupled with witnessing a first-time whale watcher catch sight of a breach or peduncle throw is what keeps Ellis and other PWFEAA staff members — from naturalists and researchers to reservations and vessel crew — coming back day after day to introduce others to the whales of Hervey Bay.
“From watching whales comes caring, from caring comes change,” Ellis encourages. “We challenge all our guests to each make those small changes in how they live that ultimately will save our marine environment and its inhabitants.”
PWFEAA is also offering a new simulated experience this year! Hervey Bay Virtual Whalewatch, designed for Australian students in grades 4–8, presents an hour-long simulated whale watch featuring the sights, sounds and expert narration of the in-person experience with added educational activities suitable for individual or classroom viewing and instruction.
For more information on Hervey Bay whale-watch ecotours and Virtual Whalewatch, visit pacificwhale.com.au.
Pacific Whale Foundation Eco Adventures Australia PTY LTD is a wholly owned subsidiary of Pacific Whale Foundation. Pacific Whale Foundation has been working to protect the oceans and marine life since its 1980 founding to protect a declining humpback whale population from global threats. Our mission is to protect the oceans through science and advocacy and inspire environmental stewardship. Our vision is to be the people’s environmental organisation for the protection of the world’s whales, dolphins and other marine animals living wild in their natural habitat. The profits from Australia ecotours helps fund whale and dolphin research, marine education for children and ocean conservation programs in Australia and around the world.