I love this time of year. Anywhere in the world where I have travelled, Northern or Southern hemisphere, spring is always the most spectacular time of year.
The days a warm and balmy, the ocean is warming up every day, there are wonderfully dramatic afternoon thunderstorms and starry skies at night.
Flowers bloom, everything turns green, starts to grow and the days get longer and longer.
The highlight of the season for me is the beginning of the Humpback Whale southern migration, this means that suddenly there are whales and calves everywhere directly off our coast.
On Thursday last week, with a boatload of adventurous guests, I came across a mother and calf at the mouth of the Mooloolah River in amongst the boats coming and going from the harbour, she was so close to the spit and the beach that the surfers on Point Cartwright got a good look at her. This will happen all the time now that the mothers are bringing the calves close inshore to avoid the deeper water oceanic predators and keep their newborn babes in nice warm shallow water.
This year the people in the know have estimated that somewhere in the vicinity of seventeen thousand whales will swim past the coast. That means during the peak of the season, which is right now, more than three hundred whales will pass the Sunshine Coast every day. The population is increasing by ten percent every year on average so there are almost two thousand newborn calves swimming and playing in our water for the next four weeks.
Now is the time to come and see the whales!
We have just had a stretch of clear dry warm days so long it almost set a record in our meteorological history here in Queensland, so the conditions for whale watching are the best they have been in years.
I’ll say it again, I love this time of year.
We have had some awesome success in the last couple of weeks, the whales are plentiful and close by, they are easy to find and when we do approach them they have been friendly and curious.
If you want to see some of the footage we’ve shot from the last week, follow this link
and make sure you hit the ‘Like’ button on your way out. Also, check out Adam Ravazzanos blog at Love and Water Photography to see the awesome images he's been shooting.
Because of the warm clean water we have also been doing plenty of snorkel trips out to Mudjimba Island and finding plenty of turtles on the reef. It’s such a beautiful spot to jump in and go for a swim that I don’t mind missing the whales. Although I have to confess that the whales are in so close we are finding them on the way to and from the island. The major difference is we cannot follow them that close inshore so we can’t combine the experiences, otherwise we would.
I have so much more to say about the adventures we’ve been having out there but I haven’t got the time so I apologise, we’re just too busy at the moment.
I haven’t even said anything about the sharks I found while diving with Ollie Fink
from Knight Dive
. Seven of them in the same spot, twice now. It’s a whole other story which will have to wait until next week.
Right now I have some whales to go find, so thanks for stopping by…
We have had a spectacular start to the 2012 humpback whale migratory season!
So good in fact that I am only now finding the time to write about what we’ve seen, so for those of you who have been waiting for this blog I sincerely apologise.
For the next five months an estimated 17000 whales will be swimming past the Sunshine Coast on a 25000 km round trip to mate and give birth, this is great news, the population is exploding. The best estimates claim a ten percent increase every year in the amount of whales we’re seeing. I have seen a lot of juveniles so far this season and even a couple of new born calves already.
We launched our whale watching season on the 16th of June with two full boat loads of eager guests. The whales are still a little further offshore than they will be in August, but they were definitely there and we managed to have some great encounters with several pods. The distance offshore is not a worry in our boat, it’s built to get out to the action and back in nice and quickly.
One of the other major benefits of our smaller fast boat is that it’s whale watching without the crowds. We take a maximum of twelve people per trip and our adventures are only three hours long.
Of course the most significant advantage of the smaller sized boat is the way the whales interact with it. They are simply not threatened by the vessel, and it seems to encourage them to become curious and approach the boat. Every single trip this year has resulted in a mugging, that is – a really close encounter with a humpback whale, close enough to touch.
Its an almost intimidating moment to start with and I have to confess that more than a few people have asked me nervously if we’ll be safe. I always reply YES! I’ve been following whales for fifteen years now and I’ve never been threatened by one. I’ve seen aggressive behaviour of course, during their mating runs when they are competing for the attention of a female they can become vicious and even murderous. When something like that happens our boat simply zips us off to a safe distance to watch the action.
Mostly the whales have come alongside and sprayed the boat with their breath and gently bobbed in the water next to us.
This last week we had several amazing encounters, the closest of which was so near that if I had reached out I could have touched the animal.
To put this in perspective for you, the animals we are chasing can grow to sixteen meters long and weigh in at an impressive sixty to sixty five tons. The boat is only eight and a half meters long and with everyone on board barely manages to scrape in at two and a half tons. When a calf is born they average out at the same weight and are only a meter or two shorter.
When a fully grown female humpback surfaces right next to the boat to breath it has to be the most awesome sound I have ever heard. They exchange almost five thousand litres of air in two seconds and the air rushes out of the twin blowholes at the same speeds as a jet turbine. This inevitably happens when the boat is stationary and the motors are off. It fills the world and overwhelms the senses.
It is for this reason we don’t encourage loud sounds on the boat while the whales are near, calm and quiet and still patience are the keys to these amazing encounters. The gasps of amazement and wonder and awe normally happen when the whale has ducked back underwater.
We had a special encounter with our friendly neighbourhood dolphin too. Patch is back! I named her for the distinctive large white scar on her caudal peduncle just above her tail. She obviously recognised us this time. We were watching a pair of migrating whales when she bounced up to the boat and started circling us. I leaned overboard and started slapping the surface. She became very excited and came right up to us, she stood on her tail and lifted her snout out of the water to say hello. I had to seriously resist the urge to touch her, instead pulling away whenever she nosed in.
It just does not get closer than this! There is no way to get closer to either of these fantastic crustaceans without actually getting wet, and even then you’re mostly limited by the visibility.
For photographic and filmed proof of the nearness and intimacy of the encounters check out our Facebook page
, all the footage has been posted there. Don’t forget to hit the “Like” button on your way out.
This is such a wonderful business to be involved in and the adventure touches everybody who comes out with us. So if you’re keen to be amazed and have a ball of fun during the adventure make sure you give us a call on (07) 5326 1700 or go to www.liquidgetaway.com.au
and book in.
Seating is limited (haha) so booking is essential.
Thanks for stopping by…
A short while ago I was contacted by the Mooloolaba chapter of the Sea Shepherd Society
and asked to speak at one of their events at the University of the Sunshine Coast. They found me through an article
in which I berated the use of shark nets on Australian beaches and expressed an interest in my opinion on the matter. I did some research on the subject and came up with some interesting facts, The following is a transcript of what I spoke about:
My name is Brett Bam. I own a tourism business here on the Sunshine Coast called Liquid Getaway
We run whale watching
trips during the winter migration season and snorkel trips
, dolphin encounters
and adventure rides
for the rest of the year.
I am an open water scuba instructor and a commercial diver. As a result I am out on the ocean almost every day either driving a boat or diving in the water.
I have been in this industry for 15 years and I’ve worked in three different oceans across the world.
I’m also a surfer.
I have spent a lot of time in the water swimming with sharks. I’ve swum with most species which occur here in Australian water and I’ve watched them display a wide variety of behaviour. I think sharks are beautiful intelligent creatures who are vitally important to the health of the oceans.
I’m here today to talk about the shark control program initiated by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries
In 1935, as an answer to an unfortunate run of shark attacks the government put out a call to the public to come up with ideas on how to control sharks on swimming beaches.
One of the more interesting ideas was to place machine guns on headlands and let the public shoot them out of the water. Imagine the picture, kids building sandcastles, surfers paddling out, families enjoying the sunshine, all watched over by mounted machine gun turrets available to every person who saw a shark! Ha!
We should probably be happy that the suggestion they eventually decided to run with was the placing of nets in the water on the more popular beaches.
Shark nets are used only in Queensland and New South Wales. Internationally, shark nets are used in Hong Kong, Hawaii, New Zealand and South Africa.
They were installed along the Queensland coast in 1975. This program is still in effect today with 85 nets in Queensland of which 23 are located here on the Sunshine Coast where there has never been a recorded shark attack, EVER.
The nets are straight rectangular pieces of netting 186 meters long and 6 meters wide. They are suspended in the water between 3 bright yellow marker buoys. The mesh is 500mm wide and is designed to catch larger prey while smaller fish are unaffected.
The nets are designed to catch sharks in excess of 2 meters; this is the size of shark which is deemed large enough to pose a significant risk to humans.
So far this year the nets have caught 392 sharks in Queensland. Of these only 170 have been over 2 meters long. Almost half of the sharks caught in the nets are not dangerous to humans.
The express purpose of shark nets is to kill sharks. The idea is that the less sharks there are in the water, the smaller chance we have of being attacked while we are swimming in the sea.
Beach nets are not installed to prevent sharks and people interacting. Nets were originally used to cull shark populations so there would be fewer sharks and therefore fewer shark alarms, and on tourist filled beaches it is the shark alarms which the government is more interested in stopping.
Now, I understand that people do not want to be eaten by sharks. I can’t think of a worse way to die than being eaten alive.
However the effectiveness of these nets is in wide dispute. The report of shark bite incidents from 1937-2008 showed that of the 38 shark attacks recorded in the state, 24 of them, which is 63%, took place at netted beaches.
The environment Minister and Department of primary industries correctly point out that there has been only one fatality at a netted beach (1951 in NSW) under this program.
But attributing low fatality rates to beach nets is questionable. Internationally, fatality rates from shark bites have declined dramatically for all shark control methods, including doing nothing. I’ll say it again. In the past few decades, shark attacks are declining all across the world!
Human beings are NOT part of a sharks food chain. We do not register as food to them. If sharks were interested in eating us, we would not be able to put our collective big toe into the ocean without it being torn off.
Most shark attacks are a single bite. The shark doesn’t even remove much of the flesh, it grabs and then lets go, which leads me to think we must taste terrible to them.
Irish trauma researcher David Caldicott published a study in 2001
showing the survival rate for shark bites is 80%, due to better on-scene treatment and antibiotics. The leading reason for fatalities was blood loss and the leading cause of attacks on beaches was mistaken identity.
According to the Australian Shark Attack File there have been 756 attacks since 1791, of those 192 were fatal. In the last 50 years there have been 53 recorded fatalities, which gives us an average of 1.04 deaths per year due to shark attacks on Australian swimming beaches, and even that is all over Australia, not just here in Queensland and NSW where the nets are in use. Just to place that in perspective, there are an average of 95 deaths a year due to bee stings, and worldwide 700 people are killed by falling coconuts every year.
There are many reasons for shark attacks in Australia, historically many of them were not in the surf but in deeper water, a surprising number of them happened on a fishing boat after the shark had been dragged aboard and let loose on the deck, funny enough, this is called a provoked attack.
A large number of the attacks recorded in the Australian shark attack file were during World War Two. Deep water sharks like the Oceanic White Tip had a field day when ships sank out at sea, contributing largely to that number of 756 attacks. This brings the chances of being attacked while swimming or surfing down dramatically whether there are nets or not.
Between 1975 and 2011, 13 900 sharks were killed in nets and drumlines. More than half of those sharks are not regarded as dangerous or targeted species. Over the same period 68 233 other marine animals were killed including dugongs, turtles, rays, marlin, sailfish, dolphins and whales
The target species for the shark control programs are the great white shark, the tiger shark and the bull shark. However due to the white shark being a protected species, it must by law be released if found alive in shark nets.
These nets are killing vulnerable and protected species such as the grey nurse shark and the white pointer. The grey nurse shark is listed as a critically endangered species. Out of all the 166 species of sharks in Australian water there are only three which have proven dangerous, the white pointer (which isn’t common in Queensland water) the tiger shark and the bull shark. Most species of sharks will never even approach a human and are completely harmless.
In 2009 here in Queensland, 16 dolphins, 1 dugong and 6 humpback whales were caught in the nets along our coast.
So far this year, 4 humpback whales have been caught in the nets, all were released safely with the exception of one. What is thought to be an adult whale tore a net on the Gold Coast in half and swam off, never to be seen again. The whale took the net with it obviously tangled up making its chances for survival slim to say the least.
At the beginning of the 2011 whale migration season a humpback whale was found off Sydney with its left flipper tangled in a net it was dragging. The marker buoy for the net was still attached and from the scar tissue around the net and the deformed growth of the flipper the whale had been tangled for at least a year.
There are several misconceptions which affect public opinion of the shark nets.
The first is that the nets are a physical barrier which prevents sharks from reaching the swimming areas of the beach. This is not true; the nets are much smaller than people think and the sharks can swim under and around the nets, in fact almost half of the entanglements occur on the beach side of the nets.
The second is that the nets act as a deterrent to shark migration patterns and that the sharks actively avoid the nets. The reality is that some species of sharks, notably tiger sharks and bull sharks, which are the two more dangerous species in Queensland water are attracted by the scent of dead animals and the panicked thrashings and distress signals put out by a drowning animal. Most of the sharks are intelligent enough to avoid the nets once they have been perceived.
The third misconception is that the only good shark is a dead shark and the more caught in the nets the better.
The reality of this is that sharks have critically important roles in the marine ecosystem maintaining a balance in the food chain. Extinction or even significant reduction in population sizes will affect all the marine environment, and that includes commercial and recreational fishing as the system is thrown out of whack.
The fourth misconception is that if the nets were removed, shark attacks would rapidly increase. As I have already said, 63% of the shark attacks in Queensland have occurred at netted beaches, and also, shark attacks are becoming less and less common every year.
There are many animals which die in the nets every year, dolphins, whales, dugongs, manta rays, turtles, larger game fish like marlin and sail fish and tuna. Many of these animals such as the grey nurse shark, loggerhead turtles and dugongs are endangered or vulnerable.
The nets kill a massive amount of valuable marine wildlife in order to protect us from a small amount of dangerous sharks which are unlikely to attack humans anyway. Which brings us to the question, why are they still there?
One reason is for the benefits to tourism. The public’s ignorance leads them to believe that shark nets protect them. They are given a false sense of security when they see that sign on the beach saying “this beach is protected by shark nets.” If we suddenly remove all the shark nets it might have an impact on tourism in the area.
The nets are a hangover from a less enlightened era, a time when we knew far less about the oceans than we do now. Statistics have shown that the nets are indiscriminate killers which are causing a massive amount of damage to a delicate environment.
Australia has proven to be a country which is leading the way Internationally in ecological education and awareness. It is Australia that is leading the way in the fight against the Japanese whaling industry by taking the Japanese to the international court of the sea in order to stop their incursions into the Southern oceans once and for all.
We are now paying the worlds highest carbon tax, much to the horror of many.
The use of shark nets goes against every policy I have ever seen Australians enforce. I don’t understand why they still insist on using this expensive, barbaric and outdated system, especially when the only single benefit is the peace of mind of a few tourists who don’t know better anyway.
The money spent on the maintenance of the shark nets would be far better spent in education. Teaching people the simple facts of how to avoid a shark attack. Don’t swim at night, don’t swim in dirty water, don’t swim near a river mouth.
The surf lifesavers all across Queensland and NSW are well trained in shark spotting. We have all seen the results on Bondi Rescue when they chase sharks away from the beach using jetskis and even helicopters. These methods are far more effective than leaving a murderous machine in the water which does so much damage.
If we can’t get the government to remove the nets completely, maybe we can get them to at least remove the nets during the whale migration from May to November in order to stop the entanglements which happen every year. This is done in NSW, but not here in Queensland.
The best way for us to make an impact and to change the policies of the Department of Primary Industries is to go online onto Facebook or any one of the many websites which support it and sign our names to the petition to remove the shark nets from our beaches, for convienience sake here are two of the more relevant oneswww.removesharknets.comwww.saveourseas.com
I hope that all of you here consider doing this very soon, it will only take a few minutes of your time. Every vote counts. The sooner we get the nets out the more whales and dolphins and rays and turtles and endangered species we save.
Thanks for stopping by.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a shark in the surf.
I was paddling out of the white water when something large and grey flashed through a wave right in front of me.
I only saw it for a split second, but I knew immediately what it was.
I yelled “Shark!”, abandoned my ethics and my mates and I paddled frantically for the beach in a flat panic, it was every man for himself.
It was one of the longest swims of my life, every nerve was stretched wire-tight waiting for the jaws of death or worse to close on my legs or feet. When I finally reached the safety of the beach I found that I had started a mild stampede, the water was empty of surfers, every one of them had paddled in because of my shout!
All of a sudden we were all on dry land, dripping wet and clasping our boards like shields.
We all scanned the water for the offending animal to no avail. The traitorous thing had disappeared, and now all the boys on the beach were giving me the evil eye and muttering foul things under their breath. I lost confidence and suddenly doubted the evidence of my own eyes.
Fifteen minutes later, all the surfers were back in the water as if nothing happened, myself included, the only tarnish on the session was to my reputation.
We all know that feeling, the sudden onset of paranoia, the psychic flash that suddenly convinces you in the middle of a perfect set that there is a shark nearby and it is seriously considering taking a chunk of you for its lunch.
It is something that all surfers have to face, the possibility of encountering an animal that will eat you during the pursuit of the sport. It is what sets surfing aside, the impression
that you share the water with a giant killing machine, the ultimate predator, and that we are slow, vulnerable relatively easy pickings for any shark that comes along.
Which leads me to the question, what are the actual
chances of being attacked by a shark while surfing, or in fact being attacked by a shark at all?
The true statistic is impossible to come by because there is no way of knowing how many surfers there are in Australia. During my research, one tongue in cheek answer I found was “No more than 22 million”, which is just about the most accurate number available. Everyone in Australia will probably try surfing at least once in their life. Australia’s population is creeping steadily up toward 23 million souls, and 86% of those good folk live near the coast. If you factor in the tourists who come to enjoy our warm climate and clean oceans, the number of people swimming in our seas is staggering, in fact, according to the Taronga Zoo website
100 million people are in Australian water every year.
According to the Australian Shark Attack File
there have been 756 attacks since 1791, of those 192 were fatal. In the last 50 years there have been 46 recorded fatalities, which is an average of 0.92 deaths a year due to shark attacks.
Less than 1 death a year out of the millions of people in the seas and rivers of Australia means I have a greater chance of winning the lottery than I do of being attacked by a shark, yay.
Just to place it in perspective, there is an average of 95 deaths a year due to bee stings, and worldwide 700 people are killed by falling coconuts every year. Peanuts are more dangerous.
In 1994 and 1995 5 people were killed by sharks while 27 were killed while rock fishing
! Yet if you ask people which they would rather do, swim with a shark or fish from the rocks, most would say rock fishing without hesitation.
So how and why do people get attacked by sharks?
There are many reasons for shark attacks in Australia, historically many of them were not in the surf but in deeper waters, a surprising number of them happened on a fishing boat after the shark had been dragged aboard and let loose on the deck, (this is called a provoked attack, ha ha). A large number of the attacks were during World War Two. Deep water sharks like the Oceanic White Tip had a field day when ships sank out at sea. This brings the chances of being attacked in the surf down dramatically.
In the last seven months there have been four shark attacks in Western Australia giving it the dubious award of having the worlds most dangerous beaches.
Australia has 35 000 kms of beaches with 166 species of sharks living in the water off those beaches. Most of these are completely harmless and would never bite anything as large and dangerous as Homo sapiens. The sharks to watch out for are well known, the white pointer or great white shark is the most famous, followed closely in notoriety by the tiger shark. These are the big boys of the ocean and are not to be trifled with under any circumstances. However, the most dangerous shark in Australia by far, is the bull shark. This is thought to be because the bull shark breeds contact with people than any other species.
Most news accounts have been over dramatised and sensationalised by the media. The public reaction is always one of mass horror and fascination which adds fear factor to the medias report. In other words, it’s not as bad as they make it out to be.
In almost every recorded attack by a shark in the surf, the shark grabbed with its mouth and then let go which indicates the shark is not biting to get food. Experts tell me that most shark bites in the surf result in single racking wounds which indicate defensive behaviour rather than aggressive. Sharks that hunt in the surf are in a very confusing environment. The water is shifting and moving and tumbling, it is laced with bubbles and sand. In the surf a hunting shark will bite something thinking it’s prey. When this happens to be a human it quickly realizes we are not something it wants to eat, so it lets go and swims away. In WA, the shark attacks which have resulted in fatalities are largely because the people involved were themselves hunting, on SCUBA. This strikes me as particularly dangerous behaviour. We would not walk into a lions den with meat strapped to our bodies and expect to come out, why then do divers expect to swim around shark infested water with dead fish in a catch bag and emerge safely?
Once you take into account all the facts, rather than just the sensational side of the story as told by fear mongering reporters, you begin to realise that sharks are specifically not
hunters of men. If sharks really were man eaters, then men would not be able to surf or dive or even swim in the sea, because we would be constantly eaten by the oceans supreme predator.
In fact, the reverse is true. We prey on sharks, and kill them in their millions. Nobody knows what the exact figure is, but it is estimated to be in excess of 100 million sharks killed by humans every year. We kill them in a wide variety of cruel ways, the cruellest of which is by far – shark-finning. The sharks are ripped from the water, their fins are sliced off and the still living shark is cast back into the water, unable to swim, in great pain, and left to drown. The fins, which are no more than plain cartilage with no nutritional or chemical value whatsoever, are dried and turned into powder which is then used in shark fin soup.
Here in Australia, specifically in NSW and Queensland, we have shark nets which are part of the shark control program.
This is very dangerous behaviour for an environmentally enlightened society to undertake. We are causing a rather large dent in the worlds shark population. If we succeed in making the shark an endangered species (and they are literally racing towards extinction in this generation), we effectively remove the apex predator from the environment.
This has far reaching consequences.
The sharks stop hunting and populations that they previously kept in check rage out of control and decimate other populations further down the food chain.
This knock on effect will eventually have a dramatic influence on the oceans and could even lead to a complete collapse of the ecosystem. And we all know how dependent humans are on the oceans. We really need them to be healthy and productive and so something has to change.
As always, it starts with us and our attitude. We have to accept the shark as our friend, rather than as the terrible killer it has always been portrayed as. It is easy to turn the shark into a villain because they are hardly cute and cuddly animals, but they are in desperate need of our protection.
During the course of writing this article I made contact with one of the world leaders in shark research, South African Mark Addison
. He has spent decades swimming with sharks. (For some awesome footage, check out “freediving with tiger sharks” on you tube, that’s him.) He has swum and touched and interacted with hundreds of massive sharks. His predominant attitude is one of awe and amazement, not fear. He regards sharks as beautiful and essential, something to be treasured and saved.
Sharks have no animosity towards humans, they are quite indifferent to us.
So, to answer the question, what are the actual chances of being attacked in the water?
Not likely, mate! Surfers are actually quite safe from sharks, the fish is a far better swimmer, far more aware of its environment, and far more likely to avoid us than bite us. So, the next time I see a shark in the surf, I plan to remain calm and let the animal swim past on its way. I’m going to look at the detail and see what kind of shark it is. I will appreciate it as a miraculous creature rather than fear it and run from it in blind panic. After all, if I surf three times a week, I'm in the water 150 times a year, this means my chances are something like 1 in 666,666.667 of being killed by a shark, and I’ll take those odds any day.
As I write this I’m sitting in a classroom. I’m in Carbrook which is on the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia, and I’m attending an instructors course in Recreational Marine Drivers Licences and Personal Water Craft licences with Gary Mc Connell, the owner of All About Boat and Jet Ski Licences
and one of the founders of BoatSafe Training Association of Queensland
. It’s one of my final days so after a long time of working towards this goal I’m finally here, near the end, it’s a good feeling, the reward of long effort, satisfying.
In the next few weeks, Liquid getaway will kick off our own BoatSafe approved boat and Jet Ski licences. It’s not our usual game to be sure, but I am still very excited by this new venture, mainly because it doesn’t rely on us waiting for the rain to stop.
I’ve been watching the rain fall here on the Sunshine Coast
all summer now, as a matter of a fact it’s for the second summer in a row. I was beginning to think someone lied to me about the climate in this place, it’s been falsely advertised as the Sunshine Coast. What sunshine? Last year we had 42 days without rain in just over five months, last week we had 300 mm of rain fall in just 30 minutes! I think I want a refund!
However, someone has just reassured me that this amount of water from the wild blue yonder is not normal. Apparently the last two seasons have been extreme in their levels of rainfall. The last time they had such an extreme of weather was in 1974 when Brisbane dramatically flooded
, just as it did last year.
Over the ensuing 36 years it grew progressively drier until just a short while ago when there were water restrictions and impending drought.
So if the cycle holds true, it should get better. There’s a little light on the horizon, to be sure it’s peeking through the storm clouds, but with a little hope and positivity it will start shining again - one day.
Soon I hope, because the rain makes the ocean dirty, which in turn means nobody wants to swim in it, which in turn means I sit at home twiddling my thumbs.
What I need to see sooner rather than later is a long stretch of sunny windless days with clean water and small swell. What a wonderful idea, because then I could get out on the ocean on my boat and stop driving my wife insane. Making my new tourism business work and earn its keep. Hence the drive to start another facet of my business and teach people the art of safely manoeuvring a vessel on the water.
In the meantime, to keep busy and to make some money I’ve been working with Ollie Fink
from Knight Dive Marine Services
. Ollie has been getting a lot of interesting commercial dive jobs lately and I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the team accomplishing those tasks. Ollie
is an ex Navy Clearance diver
, one of those boys in the water for the military, the diving elite. His training means he is an exceptional diver with a large amount of skill in performing difficult work underwater. Lately he’s been applying that knowledge to the various industries on the Sunshine Coast.
We’ve done two big salvage jobs in fresh water. One of them was a house boat sunk in the Brisbane floods and the other was a bulldozer which succumbed to a collapsed dirt road in a concrete plant. Neither job was simple or straightforward, but we managed to get the objects out of the water eventually. We had to use tow trucks and cranes and in one case had to clear some trees from the river bank, but we got the jobs done.
We’ve been doing a lot of work for the Jetty Specialist
, which involves diving around a drilling platform in the canal systems between Noosa and the Gold Coast. Ollie
and I also did some work with Cole Szujda from Sweetlips Commercial Dive on Noosa main beach. We spent about a week diving in a hole in the beach made by a running pump. The hole was filled with seawater and swirling sand, and the pump was active. Any diver with a clue will tell you that the worst possible place to be underwater is anywhere near the suction of a working pump, we had to be very careful.
We worked in the Brisbane River after the floods clearing pontoons of debris so boats can move freely again.
We worked from a big ship called the Pacific Conqueror
where we changed out a marker buoy four and a half nautical miles offshore. We had to dive to a depth of 30 meters and attach lines and chains so they could lift and lower the massive mooring block and the tackle onto and off from the deck of the ship. It took three days to finish that job.
Our latest trick has been going out to the wreck of the Ex-HMAS Brisbane
, a purpose-built recreational dive wreck sitting in 27 meters 3 nautical miles offshore from Mooloolaba. We still do regular maintenance and inspection dives on it, keeping it safe for the public to enjoy.
This is a lot of awesome work and I have to confess that even though the dives are mostly in the dark or in the mud and always alone, I’m loving every second of it!
Life is certainly varied and interesting here is Australia, today I’m sitting in a classroom, tomorrow I’m diving in the mud-brown, post-rain muck of the Brisbane River attaching brackets to pylons six meters down. This weekend I have a couple of snorkel trips booked in and next week I’m heading out to the Barwon Banks on a dive expedition to dive an area I’ve never seen before.
It all sounds quite exciting when I write it down like this; I suppose I really shouldn’t be complaining about a little thing like the rain.
So until next time, thanks for stopping by...
Make no mistake, I love winter. It’s an awesome time of year, especially here on the Sunshine Coast. For one thing, winter brings the humpback whale migration. For another, it hardly ever gets cold enough for frost to form and most of the time you could still surf in a 3mm steamer.
Nevertheless, winter is dead, long live spring.
My father is always moaning about winter. He keeps complaining about having to dig his car out of the snow. Well, what is there to say about that? Is he stupid or am I clever? Haha.
I am very extremely grateful and thankful that I’ve never had to suffer in that particular way. I love the warmth of the sub-tropics, the balmy summer evenings, the early sunrises and the late sunsets, the crystal clear coral-reef filled ocean and the always warm surf breaks.
I spent most of the winter outdoors. I dive and drive boats for a living and that is always placing me in the thick of the elements. If it’s raining, I’m in it. If the water is cold, I’m in it. If the sea is rough, I’m on it.
My father might moan about digging in the snow, but then he’s properly equipped for it. Warm clothing, hot chocolate close at hand, a fire in the grate, underfloor heating, warm duvets and quilts on the bed. You know, prepped for it, whereas if you do what I do daily, there’s very little you can do to prepare yourself.
Take the last commercial job I did for example. It was a salvage job in Toowoomba Queensland. Some muppet dropped a bulldozer in a concrete quarry. I dived on the dozer and attached enough chain to haul the nine ton chunk of metal machinery out of the mud. It took five hours of diving in nine degree Celsius water to secure eight heavy duty lines to a part of the dozer buried under slick and sticky mud. The visibility was absolute zero, which meant I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I had to dig first which is exactly as much fun as it sounds. After five hours in that water the cold gnaws down to the bone, it took me three days to warm up.
I’ve spent day after day in the water working hard, spending two and a half to three hours underwater each day. On Monday its not so bad, the cold is easily fought off with a hot cup of tea, by Wednesday it takes three cups of tea and a hot shower, by Friday it is a physically painful thing to put even a toe into the mix. One of the more hardcore dives I've done recently was in the Brisbane River. There was also zero visibility, a strong current and freezing water. The job was to remove some trees which had been dumped there during the floods. I found myself hanging on the tree with one hand, sawing away with the other. My legs were dangling in the current behind me. It was very dark, I tried my best to NOT think of all the bull sharks hanging around. When I finally got through the branch it fell on top of me and I had to fight with it to drop it to the river bed. The dive supervisor said that if I could do two hours in the water doing that then I could dive anywhere. He would know being an ex-navy clearance diver.
So, I’m very glad winter is gone and summer is on the way. Its spring, and that’s my favourite time of year. Everything seems more colourful, the trees and flowers are blooming, everything is growing, the air is fresh and crisp and the days are getting longer. The water is warming up too. Lovely.
It also means the whales start their long hard swim home with the babies they’ve just delivered. We find them everyday close to the beach swimming slowly and playfully south. It doesn’t take long to find them because they’re always on the surface and in shallow water, and when we do, we have a beautiful spring day to sit and watch them. It doesn’t get much better than that!
We have been having some unbelievable experiences. We respect the whales and we respect the laws which protect them, which means I NEVER approach the whales. The idea is to get them to approach us! It never fails either. As soon as a whale becomes curious about us it turns and initiates an encounter. We had a mother and calf do exactly that a week ago. The baby whale approached and started frolicking under the boat, the mother came in to make sure we were all safe and ended up sitting so close that we could have reached out and touched her.
We also had a lone male humpback get interested. He might have thought we were a potential female because his acrobatics were all done right behind us, in the traditional escort position. Just as we thought we’d lost him he would surface behind us and blow. At one point he was singing away and we could all hear the song vibrating through the deck. It caused a moment or two of stunned silence as we all listened intently. Amazing! I love my job.
It’s been an awesome time with the whales, although I have to confess there was a couple of weeks when the numbers were a bit thin on the ground. We ended up doing some serious searches for whales, at the worst we covered 52 nautical miles on one trip, it took an hour and a half to find a pod of players, that’s 96 kilometres at sea. Alarmed by the scarcity of the gentle mammalian giants I did a little research and came up with an interesting theory.
The currents have been boosted by the El Niño phenomenon present off Queensland’s waters this last year. Just in case you don’t know what it is heres a quick rundown – it is a quasiperiodic climate pattern that occurs across the tropical Pacific Ocean roughly every five years. It is characterized by variations in the temperature of the surface of the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. What this means is that the ocean stayed warmer than normal throughout winter this year. It was partially to blame for the extreme rainfall and the floods we suffered in the region. I think it also affected the migration of the humpback whales. They have been pushed far further north this year than usual. A contact in Princess Charlotte Bay in far northern Queensland told me that the numbers there this winter have far exceeded the highest numbers in the past decade. Because of this huge distance covered by the majority of the whale population, they have been slow in returning because they have a longer trip to do than normal. Hervey Bay whale watching operators are only now reporting increased numbers, and even they are surprised by the large amount of whales swimming past.
What this means is that the whales are about to swarm en masse past the Sunshine Coast, and I am ready to meet them. I think the next few weeks is going to be the best whale watching time of the last decade.
So do yourself a favour if you’re in the area. Give us a call at Liquid getaway and make sure you grab a seat on the boat for an encounter. We only take 12 guests per trip so we tend to fill up quickly, bookings are essential.
It’s the perfect time of year for a snorkel adventure too. Mudjimba Island has proved to have some awesome sea life and crystal clean water. We have a 100% hit rate on sea turtles so far this season. With the water getting warmer we’re seeing more Queenslanders become interested in the snorkelling, not only those crazy southern tourists from Sydney and Melbourne and Tasmania who think the water here is warm all year long.
To make sure this time is well spent and properly utilised, we’ve initiated a massive specials week, just in time for school holidays. Our prices are all significantly lower than normal, the catch phrase has become – “Adults at kids prices!!”
(For details on the specials check out our website, www.liquidgetaway.com.au.)
I can’t wait! Between the clean warm water, the new Coral Island Snorkel Adventure and the plethora of whales and our massive discounts I think its going to be a fantastic spring.
See you out there, and thanks for stopping by…
I would like to extend my apologies for taking so long to post this blog. I do have a highly valid excuse though; I’ve been out at sea spending lots of time with the humpback whales migrating busily up the east Coast of Australia!
We are celebrating our most successful week here at Liquid Getaway
; it’s been slightly unbelievable actually. We’ve gone out twice a day with full loads for the last week. Nice!
The sea has been flat and smooth and the water has been cleaner than I’ve seen it all year. The sun has been shining and the wind has been far, far away which means we have had the most spectacular conditions imaginable. The only way you could possibly understand what its like out there is if you’ve experienced it first hand. It’s quite indescribable so I won’t waste too many words in the attempt; just trust me when I say the conditions were epic.
And then there are the whales themselves!
We’ve had a really great week with them. Their numbers seem to be increasing and they are coming closer and closer to the coast.
Before last week we have been heading really far out to sea to find the whales, around 15 nautical miles or 28 kilometres, but in the last few days they have come right into the bay and our last encounter with them was only 3 nautical miles out.
We have been mugged so many times its bordered on the ridiculous!
The whales have been coming right up to the boat, literally two or three meters away. When you are on an 8.5 meter long boat that weighs only 2 tons, it can be a really intimidating thing to be buzzed by a whale that weighs 45 tons and is 16 meters long. I turn the motors off and let the boat drift when this happens, allowing the whales to dictate the closeness and duration of the encounter.
Several times now they have come so close that our guests have to take a step back to get the photo they want.
One of the whales spent a good fifteen minutes hovering on our starboard side so close that I could have stepped off the boat onto its back.
When it finally lifted its tail and dived, everyone on board suffered a small, comical moment of doubt and fear.
The tail is truly enormous and when it’s that close the boat hardly feels like a safe haven. It gives you a startling sense of vulnerability when you’re exposed to such a massive animal in such close proximity. Of course I know that the whale is being gentle and playful, I would never approach a whale or allow one to approach if there are any signs of aggression.
Most people will never come that close to such a large animal in their entire lives, it dwarves a person by an order of magnitude.
These close encounters give a sense of how gentle these giants really are, their curiosity and mild mannered nature is a wonderful thing to behold so up-close and personal.
We saw some remarkable mating behaviour too. There were two females being chased by seven males. The females run at about 6 or 7 knots an hour (11 to 13 kilometres an hour), about a third of their top speed. The males all jostle for the prime position, just behind and to the right of the female. They slide over and under each other, bump into each other and generally push and shove until one of them proves to be the most dominant. He turns out to be the lucky guy, although I must confess to feeling sorry for the poor female who is blatantly harassed.
The displays of physical prowess are spectacular to say the least, the thrashing males turn large portions of the calm blue sea white with froth; the turbulent sprays and splashes from their exertions leap metres into the air.
This is an activity that we anticipate seeing regularly throughout the season. A lot of females manage to fall pregnant on their journey up the coast, it means we’ll be seeing them again next year, fat and round and expectant.
We followed one of these mating rituals for almost two hours last week and the guests got to see some awesome action.
The highlight of the week has to be our first sighting of a baby whale. It was a really small calf; I’ve never seen one so tiny. They usually weigh in at around four or five tons and measure approximately two to three meters long at birth. This calf couldn’t have been more than one ton and was only around a meter and a half long. It had a really light grey skin and its exhalations were so small there was no spray. Hen we first saw it I thought it was a dolphin.
It couldn’t swim very fast and spent the whole time on the surface. There were two whales with it; both of them were very attentive and protective. We didn’t get very close for fear of disturbing the little tyke. My guess is it was a premature birth, and it had only happened a day or two before we found them. It was still very early in the season for whales to calve and this little family was still heading north into the warmer waters. My heart went out to the little one, I hope it manages to have a safe journey.
This is such a dangerous coast for whales to travel. Australians have a healthy nautical persuasion; there are literally millions of recreational fishermen, yachties and divers out there. This means that the amount of boats travelling up and down this coastline must number in the hundreds of thousands per day.
Add to this the busy waterways of an International maritime distribution system and what you end up with is an ocean with a lot of traffic.
Our whales have a rather dangerous time of it out there, maybe not so much during the day when they are visible for miles, but when night falls the risk of an impact increases dramatically.
Most whale deaths of all species worldwide are due to ship strikes. Some of the whales I have seen have some really nasty scars on their backs obviously caused by close encounters of the propeller kind.
I understand why they can sometimes be a little wary of us when we find them.
The most bizarre day we’ve had so far this season was filled with whales which seemed to be doing their best to avoid us. They would dive and change direction and spend a long time down deep. It wasn’t just one whale that did this, but twelve.
I spoke to Shane, the captain of Whale One, our fellow whale watching business here on the Sunshine Coast, and he reported that every whale they saw that day was also doing the same thing.
The only theory I can imagine is that something bad happened in the water and all the whales in the vicinity decided to avoid boats for the rest of the day.
We respected their decision and left them to it, what else could we do?
The weather has unfortunately taken a turn for the worse, with high winds and rain expected through this weekend.
It might not be the most comfortable day on the water but the whales seem to love it. On rough days we see a lot more breaches and playful behaviour than normal, so watch this space for more exciting developments.
Stay safe out there, and thanks for stopping by…
It’s been a very busy week for us here at Liquid Getaway, and we’ve had quite a variety of adventures out on the ocean lately.
Obviously we have managed to find more whales out there, they seem to be mainly younger males and females who are not pregnant. They are all cruising North as is to be expected so early in the season.
The sea has been rough and wet! The swell is running and the south easterly wind has been blowing some rather frigid air up the coast from the snowy parts of Australia south of us.
It’s made for some cold bumpy excursions, but bizarrely it hasn’t stopped people from wanting to go out for a swim!
Every time I take people snorkelling out on Mudjimba Island I am convinced it will be the last trip of the season; however they keep proving me wrong. And they seem to be having some awesome luck!
The water is cleaner than it’s been all year long with fifteen to twenty meters of visibility. This makes for a spectacular snorkelling trip and our guests are having a lot of fun in the water despite the fact that the water temp is dipping below twenty degrees C.
These people (it must be said) are all from much colder places like California or New Zealand where the water never gets warmer than fifteen degrees C.
We also completed our most difficult whale watching trip of the season so far. The swell was running at about 1.7 meters and the wind was pushing a solid 20 knots. In conditions like that I am forced to much slower speeds for the comfort of the passengers and it took a lot longer to get out to the whales than normal. I think the guests were getting a little impatient by the time we found the whales, but when we did it was all smiles again.
To entertain the guests in the interim, we had a large pod of dolphins performing some spectacular acrobatics in the large swell, leaping out of the back of the waves and getting some impressive hang time before plunging back in again. Our guests got some excellent shots of dolphins flying through the air.
On a slightly more personal note I had a fantastic dive this week. It’s been a while since I’ve dived in clean water. My work as a commercial diver
means I dive in some pretty horrible dirty water. My latest dive was up a pipe in a hole in the ground on a construction site. I had to take an inflatable bag up a pipe so we could plug the pipe. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face and it took two washes to clean my wetsuit. Yuck! Also, up a pipe in the dark? Not for the claustrophobic! There wasn’t enough room to turn around so backing out of the pipe was a little tight and hair raising.
So when I got the opportunity to go for a dive out on the wreck of the Ex-HMAS Brisbane with none other than big wave surfer extraordinaire Mark Visser
, it was a no brainer.
Mark Visser is an awesome surfer who just set a world first. He surfed a ten meter wave at night
! He’s a maniac. But a maniac who knows what he’s doing. The documentary they shot of the experience is called Night Rider and it is set for release later this year.
I got the chance to help Mark shoot part of that documentary. I was the support boat for the camera crew. I haven’t mentioned it before because he made me sign a confidentiality agreement so I was legally gagged. Haha.
I took Mark out to sea and the camera crew filmed him while he free-dived to a depth of 30 meters in the dark, all part of the training for surfing a giant wave at night. If you suffer a wipe out, you’d best be able to hold your breath and you can’t be freaked out by a little dark water!
This might sound hardcore to some out there, but I have one better for you. I just saw a Youtube clip
of Mark in training. In a 50 meter Olympic sized swimming pool Mark sinks to the bottom, exhaling all the air in his lungs. He has a dive mask on and a pair of board shorts, no fins on his feet.
With no air
in his lungs he holds his breath for a minute and a half! Then he swims the length of the pool – 50 meters underwater.
With no air in his lungs.
The entire training exercise took two minutes and twenty seconds, underwater.
With no air in his lungs!
Mark has a reputation for being one of the fittest surfers in the sport. His training regime is brutal, but then it has to be if you want to be the best in the world.
Mark lives here on the Sunshine Coast when he’s not travelling all over the world chasing the largest waves in fantastic locations.
I’ve bumped into him on the odd occasion in the waterways of Mooloolaba and he’s always had a friendly word or wave ready for me.
He wanted to go for a dive on the wreck and he gave me a call. I was only too happy to oblige. We had a wicked dive and a great morning, in spite of the fact that the swell and the cold wind were still around.
So that’s a wrap up of the weeks events, I managed to spend more time than normal in and on the water while the wind howled and the temperature plunged. This job is nothing if not challenging…
For a little more info on Mark Visser and the unbelievable physical feats he accomplishes check out www.markvisser.net
, or Youtube his name.
Thanks for stopping by…
Our first whale watching trip of the 2011 season was a resounding success. We encountered five humpback whales in two pods about fifteen nautical miles off the Sunshine Coast.
For all those landlubbers out there, fifteen nautical miles is almost twenty eight kilometres. It sounds like it’s a long way out, and it is for most vessels, however on our fast RHIB it’s a hop skip and a jump.
Not only did we find the whales, but we also found plenty of other interesting sea life. We encountered three large pods of dolphins, two pods of bottlenose dolphins and one pod of common dolphins. The bottlenose were a little busy hunting to stop and play with us, but the common dolphins were very interested and came right up to the bow of the boat to get a real close look. Our cameraman Beau Eastman got some amazing footage of the encounter.
We also found an olive sea snake sunning itself on the surface. Its natural olive colours with its brown stripes contrasted sharply with the blue water so we saw it from quite a distance away. It seemed unconcerned with the boat as we approached and even lifted its head to watch us as we moved slowly past. We got so close we could have reached out and touched it. I asked, but nobody seemed keen to pet the highly venomous reptile.
We also saw three sea turtles, two large loggerheads and a smaller hawksbill turtle.
The water on Mudjimba Island was crystal clear and we could see the coral reef on the Eastern side of the island.
Clean water on the island has been a rarity during the last seven months of rain and more rain. It’s nice to see the water is clearing up.
As to the whales, our new staff spotter, Hanna, saw the whale blow from a long distance off. We approached the area just in time to see a breach. It was unfortunately the last one of the day; however that doesn’t mean we didn’t get a display!
The whales were all between ten and thirteen meters long and they were in a very relaxed mood. They were moving slowly and kept stopping to frolic. We saw flukes and fins and dorsals as they splashed around.
As always, we kept our distance and moved very slowly while in the vicinity of the whales. They seemed to appreciate our polite attitude and decided to come closer to have a look.
We sat still with the motors turned off and the pod of three whales turned straight for us. They swam past the bow of the boat so close that we could have stepped off onto their backs. One whale swam directly under the boat while we all leaned over the side and watched it go by.
It’s a heart stopping moment when three massive creatures come so near and it left everybody on board with a sense of how awesome these magical creatures are.
We returned safely to port with lots of smiles on board, a great story for the customers to tell their friends and family and some great footage for the archives.
For more details of the footage, check out our websites www.liquidgetaway.com.au
You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest on special deals and latest events.
Thanks for stopping by…
The East Coast of Australia, from Sydney to Cairns is buzzing with excitement generated by the arrival of the first humpback whales of the season.
For the next five months, all through winter and well into spring, the humpback whales from the southern ocean will be migrating up and down our coastline on their annual mission to warmer waters. They come to the clean tropical waters of Queensland to give birth to the young they have been carrying for the last twelve months.
Their spectacular journey crosses more than ten thousand kilometres of ocean and can last anything up to nine months. All winter long, the Sunshine Coast will have an average of about two hundred and fifty whales passing by every day.
The population of humpback whales has undergone a massive expansion over the last few decades as they enjoy a tremendous amount of protection and popularity here in Australian waters. Whale watching has turned into a multi billion dollar industry worldwide, and there are very few places where it is such an embraced and enjoyed national pastime as right here in Queensland.
Liquid Getaway is ready and eager for this season, our fast and agile boat will be a regular sight on the Sunshine Coast this winter, zipping in and out of Mooloolaba every day to find and interact with these magnificent animals as they cruise past.
We are ideally situated here on the Sunshine Coast. The humpbacks start coming past us in early June on their way North and we see the last of them in mid-November as they head South with their calves in tow. Places further north like Hervey Bay have a shorter season because it’s the final destination of the whales. They have a large amount of them, but for a shorter time because once the whales start to leave their season is over. Places like Sydney see them early in winter and then later in spring, but while the whales are all in the warm tropical water they have very few sightings. We have a pretty constant amount all season long as they cross back and forth along the Sunshine Coast on their way to and from these places. The prime time is all through September when we have whales going in both directions with and without young. It’s a fantastic time of the year and we have a lot of fun doing this for a living.
Our trips kick off this week, with our first group of people headed out for an encounter on the 14th of June.
We have a limited number of seats, so booking is essential. Our trips are very personal and the encounter with the whales is very close and intimate. They tend to be exceptionally curious about our boat and approach us on a regular basis. Especially when there are calves around who are feeling a little playful. Our boat is eight and a half meters long and weighs just less than two tons, so when a sixteen meter long, forty-five ton creature swims right past us it is a very thrilling moment.
We always approach slowly and politely, being very aware of the behaviour of the whales and of the legal approach and interaction laws. It sometimes takes a while, but whales are naturally inquisitive animals and they soon become curious about us. Once a whale becomes interested in us they initiate an encounter and we turn off the motors and drift with the wind and current.
It’s a very calm and quietly peaceful moment until the whale surfaces and breathes.
When a humpback whale breathes they exhale air from their lungs at speeds in excess of 480 kilometres an hour, that’s almost the same speed as a cruising jet. The visible spray can shoot up as high as five meters, which is how we normally spot them in the first place. They inhale straight away before ducking back underwater. The exchange of air takes place in about two seconds during which they inhale almost seven thousand litres of air. When they do this right next to the boat, it’s an awe inspiring moment that never fails to raise some goose bumps.
The anticipation of the season makes me giddy with excitement; I just can’t wait to begin.
Keep watching this spot for regular updates and photos of our encounters and experiences out on the water.
Thanks for stopping by…When Humpback whales breathe they exhale air from their lungs at a speed in excess of 480 kilometres an hour. That's almost the same speed as a cruising jet airplane. When the whale exhales, the warm breath condensates as it hits the cooler surrounding air, and this is the telltale 'blow' which can shoot up as high as 4 to 5 metres into the air. Using a very high shutter speed on the camera you can clearly see the strength and height of the 'blow' in figures A & B.
After the blow the whale inhales air through its two large nostrils, this air exchange takes less than 2 seconds. Their lung capacity is enormous and at this moment they inhale almost 7 and a half thousand litres of air. Humpback whales store oxygen in their muscles and this helps them to stay submerged for sometimes up to an hour and they can dive as deep as two hundred metres.