We’ve been coming to Sea life (or Underwater World, as we’ve always called it) since Miss 19 was Miss still in a pram. It’s become a tradition – one of the first things we had to do each time we came to the coast.
But it’s been a few years since we’ve been here and, well, the otters have gone – and I can’t seem to find out why. (If you know, please tell me).
Other than the missing otters, Underwater World still delivers.
There’s still the ocean glass tunnels with the massive gropers, rays and reef sharks.
There’s still the billabongs and the river zones, the seahorses and pacific reef. And there’s still the seals – watching their antics is worth the price of admission alone. Make sure that you time your visit for the twice daily shows.
The touch pool out the front is still a source of wonder for little kids, but at the moment it’s also serving as a nursery for a clutch of baby turtles. They’ll be grown in the aquarium until they’re 15cm long and have a fighting chance in the ocean (did you know that just 1 in 1000 sea turtles survives to maturity?). The turtles are tagged, released, and their travels tracked. With luck, they’ll survive to come back to the beach of their hatching to lay their own eggs – many years from now.
The jellyfish are also pretty incredible. Coincidentally, I heard a podcast only the day before we visited Underwater World that was talking about how jellyfish are both an early warning system on an ecosystem that’s failing – and the cause of a failing eco system getting substantially worse. They’re fabulously interestingly weird creatures – and extremely photogenic.
There’s a flat part to the water – completely glass-like. It looks almost like an oil slick, but it isn’t. It’s a “footprint” left behind when a whale dives – as the up-thrust of its tail drives water to the surface.
It’s just one of the ways that we know there are whales around – another are the blows…and they’re all around us.
We’re on Whale One, about 11- 12 miles off the coast of Mooloolaba and we’re excited. In fact, even the crew is excited. Today is a good day – there are plenty of whales about and they’re having fun.
Miss 19 and I don’t have a great record with whale watching. We had 2 attempts in Kaikoura – both times the cruise was cancelled due to bad weather – and another off Auckland where we saw nothing nada zilch. It happens – and when it does, it’s best just to enjoy the sights and experience of the cruise.
This time we’ve timed (accidentally) our whale watch experience to coincide with the peak time of the Humpback whale’s northern migration – and these guys have the energy to burn. Given that they won’t eat again until they’re back in Antarctica later in the year, they probably have more energy now than they will have on the return journey. I guess every road trip needs some fun, and this one – to the Barrier Reef and then back again – is longer than most.
Leaving from the Wharf at Mooloolaba, we cruised up the river – past some multi-million dollar properties – to where the river meets the ocean at the rock wall. On the way out we passed a trawler heading back in with their catch. ‘There’s plenty of them out there,’ the deckie called.
From here things got choppy – and more than a few people were pleased to have taken the precaution of sea-sickness tablets. Miss 19 and I, however, were completely unaffected. The crew kept coming around to check on everyone and hand out bags where required.
As we motored out to the main whale highway – an area anywhere between 8-12 miles off Mooloolaba – Shorty, our skipper told us more about the whales and their behaviours. Migaloo, the famed white whale, had been seen off North Stradbroke a day or so earlier and was rumoured to be in the area, so Shorty told us about the day he spent almost 3 hours with Migaloo back in the late 90’s.
At about the 10-mile mark we saw our first blow – and then another. From this point, it just got better and better as we witnessed breach after breach and a couple of corkscrews. We even saw a rare double breach – where 2 whales came out of the water at the same time. Sadly I don’t have the photographic proof, but it was epic.
As we idled in the water – Shorty explaining how far we needed to stay from them to guarantee their safety and that of any newborns – the whales came to us. One went under the boat, surfacing on the other side so we all had a good look at her. I got so carried away with pointing and cheering that I couldn’t take photos. Thankfully Miss 19 took over and I have her to thank for all the pics in this post.
The pictures tell just a small part of what was a completely awesome and breathtaking experience. Just fabulous. Oh, and we didn’t catch up with Migaloo – although we did come across a gorgeous dappled (probably) female that got us awfully excited for a little while.
Want to know more?
Whale One runs two cruises a day during the peak whale-watching season – each lasting about 3 hours. They also have a speedboat – the Wild One – which gets you to the whales quicker. Those tours last 2 hours.
Don’t forget, whales are wild animals and as such their behaviour can’t be predicted – nor can sightings. The brochures might show breaches, but this sort of action isn’t guaranteed. Whale One has a very good strike rate – check out their Facebook page for the daily action – but even so, we got extremely lucky.