Thursday, August 24, 2017

Encounter with aliens

A rare photo of a whale's eye. Yes, she's looking at us.

I've taken a break from the writing business for now. My latest book, For the Greater Good, is available for pre-order, and the weather is wonderful. As I do every year, at least once a season, I went out to visit the whales in Platypus Bay off Fraser Island. Every year thousands of humpbacks make the journey from Antarctica up the East (and West) coast of Australia, to warmer waters to give birth, mate, and take a break. After being on the brink of extinction, humpbacks have multiplied after whaling stopped and they're off the endangered species list. Now, thousands of visitors flock to Hervey Bay for a chance to see these giants up close and personal. We love that. The more people see them, the more people will wonder why these gentle, intelligent, curious creatures are still hunted for products we don't need or use.

You can see whales up and down Australia's coasts between late July to mid-November, but what makes Hervey Bay different is they come in here for a break. They'll stop and play, chat with the visitors. In other places, they're on the move, going North, or going back South. Here, mums will linger in the bay for maybe days to fatten up junior for the long cold of the Antarctic. Sub-adults will cruise around just like any other bunch of teenagers. Adult males will jostle with each other looking for a chance at a quickie with a lady. Like all baleen whales, humpbacks don't play happy families. After they've mated, the male goes off for more nooky, and the female rears the calf until it is about a year old, and weaned. Then it's on its own.

The day started with a really close encounter. We were hardly 5km out of the harbor when we met our first whale. Usually the first sighting doesn’t occur until the boats reach Platypus Bay 40km away. I suppose that's happening because there are more and more whales arriving, and they are now very comfortable with being visited. Still, it's shallow water, so I hope they don't come in too close.

There are strict rules about people interacting with the whales. Boats are not allowed to approach within 300m of a whale, and even then, they must not approach from the front or behind. If a whale does come close, the boats have to reduce speed, and in fact stop if the whale is very close. For anyone interested you'll find the rules here

Casual spyhopping right beside our boat

Spyhopping - most of the whale's head is out of the water
While the skippers have to follow the rules, the whales don't. If they're curious, they will come very close. This leads to what the whale boat skippers affectionately call 'mugging'. The boats cannot leave until the whales go beyond 150m away. If skippers have a timetable to follow, it can get complicated. That happened to our boat. We had to divert five whales surrounding one boat so it could return to port. This group of whales turned out to be an adult, sexually mature female with a full grown male, and a mother and calf with an escort, who eventually veered off. The female was teasing the male, showing off, rolling around in the water, and letting her suitor drape a fin over her body. Although his main interest was sex, both of them did a bit of spyhopping – where the whale hangs vertically in the water with most of its head above the surface so it can see what's going on. That interest was directed at the boat.

Calf in the background. The female at the front is NOT its mum

She's being a tart, and he's feeling amorous
After they tired of us and went off elsewhere, we encountered a young female who mugged the boat for over an hour. She swam all around the vessel, underneath on her back so she could see the hull, alongside the boat watching the people and generally putting on a show. She must have known about the whale-watching rules for boats, because she headed away from us at just about the time the skipper was looking at his watch and wondering if we'd be late back. We had a fabulous day and I hope you enjoy the pictures.
A little bit of tail-slapping

Waving a pectoral

Rainbows in the spray

She's on her side, looking at us. The eye is just in front of that white patch
But back to SF for a moment. I imagine it would be hard for people to imagine Whales in Space. But it has been done.

The Whale's Tale

In a future where whales and dolphins can communicate with humans, and where the Whale Nation has brought space travel back from the brink of extinction, humpback whales tour the galaxy in massive spaceships called “The Whaling Fleet” performing Whalesong to receptive audiences. 

Uki is a teenage Japanese girl who steals a file from a whale to impress a guy in her gang, but she gets caught, and has to perform restitution to Targe, the humpback whale she’s stolen the file from, by touring the galaxy with Targe and his dolphin sidekick, Charlie. Uki doesn’t like Targe, Targe doesn’t like Uki, and Charlie thinks he’s in for the worst tour of his life until they discover Uki has a special talent.

Whales are very intelligent creatures. We writers of SF probably need to get past the necessity of an opposable thumb to master technology.


  1. Loved seeing all your whale pics. Amazing! Whales, Orcas and Dolphins have always fascinated me. I probably should have been a marine biologist (except for my deep terror of sharks which probably would have been a complicating factor.)

    I love how Star Trek raised the scenario of an advanced alien species ignored humans in favor of communicating with the whales, and raised all kinds of havoc when they returned to find the now-extinct whales no longer answered their calls.

    Ben Bova had a whale-like alien species that communicated in a very unique way in one of his novels. Jupiter, I think it was.

    The Whale's Tale sounds like a great read.

  2. It's wonderful that the whales have clawed their way bck from the brink of extinction - that is, humans have grabbed a brain. Nice to know we CAN learn.


Comments set on moderation - all spammers will be exterminated!

About Spacefreighters Lounge

Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.