Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Whale of a Tale

Ever since I saw the pictures of the Great Australian Bight in the "Lonely Planet", it has been on the "must visit" list. The only question was when, since the area is not only famous for its' towering cliffs, but from May to October it's home for the Southern Right Whale. So when Mark found out that he would be working for most of August in Perth, we decided to take advantage of the timing and drive back to Adelaide. This would allow us to experience both the Nullarbor and the Cliffs, but hopefully we would also see some whales.
We got our first view of the cliffs right after crossing over from West to South Australia. It was breathtaking to see the flat treeless land--was once part of the ocean floor--drop 90 meters into the pounding surf of the Great Southern Ocean. We had several more photo opportunities to view the cliffs before reaching the Head of the Bight--the winter breeding ground of up to 100 whales.

Bunda Cliffs

As we entered the gates of the Head of the Bight Interpretive Center, we saw a sign indicating that there were 30 or more whales in the area. I tried not to get my hopes up. After all, every time we have been at a whale viewing area we have seen none. But still, the thought of thirty whales in one area was pretty exciting. We had little information about the Interpretive Center itself, and were not sure how it would be set up. From the outside it looked like a little kiosk at the edge of the cliff with a fence around it. We had to question if it was really going to be worth the $12 per person, but we figured we had better pay up since there was little chance we would be heading this way ever again. Once the entrance fee was taken care of, we were relieved to find a path leading from the enclosed area. A short stroll brought us to the cliff's edge high above a tranquil bay. As I scanned the horizon, I could barely hold in my excitement. There, floating in the sparkling blue water, were at least a dozen black objects--whales!!!!! Just when I thought things couldn't get better, the whale closest to us blew and we could hear the sound as clear as day.

Whale Blowing

To add to the experience the path did not end at this scenic outlook. In both directions there were wooden staircases which allowed visitors to get even closer to the water. As we headed left we saw one of the great animals roll over on its back. Closer inspection, through binoculars, showed a whale calf trying to climb onto it's rolled-over mother's stomach. (Apparently when the mother whales get tired of nursing they take a break on their backs.) When we reached the viewing area at the end of the staircase, we were clearly able to see that the half dozen whales near the cliffs all had calves. From our vantage point I felt like the prying eye, watching the most private and intimate moment between mother and calf. It was mesmerizing and calming to watch the gentle nature of these enormous beast (some over 20 feet long) with their offspring. It didn't take much imagination to see the soft caresses or to hear the motherese.

Taking A Break From Nursing

During the next hour and half we were treated to many more blows, body rolls, and caresses, as well as some tail lifts and spy hoping (lifting the head vertically out of the water). At one point two of the lil' ones left their mother's side and began to play with each other--frolicking in the gentle surf. When it was time to go, Mark had to drag me away. Our afternoon at the Head of the Bight was a very touching experience.

Southern Right Whale

1 comment:

  1. Wow. What an exciting experience. You literally helped me feel the wonder of this moment.