Monday, November 10, 2008

Whale Watching & Demo Day

We awoke to sunny and warm weather on Thursday, making it a total of 3 days where I wasn't shivering and cold in Australia. If you want consistent heat and sun, you have to travel north to Queensland.

I was thankful for the calm warm weather because I was headed out on the ocean that morning. I booked myself on a two hour "Totally Wild" whale watching tour. The boat was a smallish vessel, of a type used by the coast guard, where we could speed out of Sydney Harbour into the open ocean. And do I mean speed! We traveled out so fast that we had to use hand grips to keep our butts in the seats as we flew over the waves. The ride was surprisingly smooth due to the calm weather, and the clear skies meant our visibility levels were very high.

The tour guarantees whale spotting or you get another ticket to ride. Within the first hour we spotted a seal, a small shark, shearlings (sea birds) and an albatross. These are all animals that you might occasionally get to see on this tour, but not frequently. We were lucky apparently. But this luck wasn't working in regards to seeing whales. The second hour was quickly passing, and still no whales seen by our boat, the company's spotter helicopter, or their second boat to the south. The captain was perplexed because there were massive schools of fish all around us, attracting all those other animals, and conditions were ideal for the whales that frequently swim in the area.

Then a small pod of dolphins ran alongside our boat for a while. Where there are dolphins, there are whales says the captain. Time was running out however, and it seemed we'd be getting what amounted to a free boat cruise in the sunshine and the calm seas. Not a bad prospect. A few more false alarms, as we kept spotting fish traps instead of dorsal fins. There were 9 of us on the boat, scanning the swells in all directions. Then I thought I spotted something about 20m to starboard, and pointed it out to the crew. Aha!! A whale!

There was a mother humpback and her calf. We stayed out on the ocean beyond our allotted 2 hours to watch the pair through 4 cycles of coming to the surface to breathe then dive below for several minutes. The mother was comfortable enough with us to allow her calf to surface and swim between herself and our boat.

We even got to see several types of whale behaviours in the short time we watched them: tail dives, blowing etc. I've got some photos to post once Kevin returns to Canada with the camera, but unfortunately I didn't get a good shot of the tail.

We returned to the docks, passing under the Harbour Bridge and seeing the Opera House from a great angle on the water. I arrived back at the hotel in the afternoon just as Kevin returned from the product demonstration. To his disappointment, the only time the device failed to work perfectly was the demo itself. We joined his colleagues for a much needed drink and mutual commiseration down at Circular Quay. The sunshine, warm weather and harbour views made for a pleasant afternoon despite the disappointment. Everyone was philosophical about the demo, and simply enjoyed being finished after weeks of long hours. The real work would start later, so they may as well enjoy the small break afforded them.

We spent our last night in Sydney packing, shopping, then out for dinner at a steak house on the harbour. Goodbyes were said, and everyone headed home to hotels or airports. Friday morning saw Kevin headed to visit Jason & Vanessa in Brisbane, and I was back on a 15 hour flight home to Vancouver, just in time to attend our friend Emily's wedding Saturday.

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