As our skipper Patrick leaves the shores of the Sunshine Coast behind and heads towards fishing boats and shipping container vessels, Johnny explains that we are all responsible for spotting whales and to use the clock method as our compass, with the bow of the boat representing 12.
For the first hour, 14 wet-suited passengers are eagerly watching for whales breaching or fluking. Breaching occurs when the whale picks up speed close to the surface of the water before lurching into the air, slapping down on its back or side, and creating a mega splash.
Fluking is a gentler motion when whales expose their tail fin, called a fluke, as they commence a descent into deeper water.
Suddenly, Mark, a member of the crew, yells “four o’clock”. We all toss our heads in the direction of two whales traveling south as the boat gets into a position where the crew can assess the whales’ direction and behavior.
The experience is entirely up to the creatures of the sea. We understand Sunreef can’t control nature, but of course, now that we are here – in our wetsuits, ankles fitted with a magnetic shark repellent, and flippers and snorkel at the ready – we are keen for a close-up encounter with these beasts of the sea.
Up to this point I’ve heard stories from Johnny about incredible days out where whales have swum directly beneath him, even when he’s tried to move out of their way they’ve been so inquisitive as to make contact with him and lift him gently out of the water.
He refers to whale “mugging” a lot when a whale will swim right up to the vessel, circle around it, and make eye contact with those on board. I’ve also been warned that some days they’re just not successful in ‘swimming with whales.’
But when Johnny yells at us to get our flippers and snorkels on and line up along the sides of the boat so we are ready for action, I feel like this is it; I’m about to dive into the ocean and come snorkel-to-fin with one of the world’s most incredible beings.
Two crew members enter the water with the passengers and keep us in a tight group as we swim away from the boat in the swell of the ocean. Just when I am wondering “What the hell am I doing out here?” Johnny yells something I can’t understand as I’m trying to defog my mask and keep my mouth on my snorkel, but his waving arms say it all.
I look ahead and see the surfacing dorsal fins of two cetaceans powering towards us. Right now I’m swearing and not sure if I’m freaking out or excited, but I am definitely overawed. Johnny motions for us to put our heads down as the whales are about to swim beneath us. Face in the water and all I can see is bubbles and the uncoordinated flapping of my fellow swimmers’ flippers.
Adrenaline surging, we pile back onto the boat eagerly telling each other what we saw and what didn’t while shivering through a serving of warm soup. Another hour passes as the crew regale us with whale trivia and tales before I yell out, “five o’clock”.
Throughout the day there were certainly whales all around us and we saw them in various directions, but a third time getting in the water doesn’t turn out to be lucky either. The humpbacks are not feeling particularly social today. But that’s OK, I’ve exercised my social skills by submerging myself in the ocean with a group of strangers from all parts of the globe to connect, in some way, with them and with nature.
This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com