Watch Your Whales – They’re Back!

Esther BeatonWildlife Photography

June 1st announces the start of the whale watching season. Humpbacks and southern rights can now be sighted off the New South Wales Coast as they head north to breed in warmer waters.

I’ve been blown away by this annual event ever since that June in 1988 when I carried out an assignment for Good Weekend magazine. It was unique not only for being a wildlife assignment (something rarely given those days) but because it introduced the general public to whales. Before then, they were almost mythical creatures. Whales were so little known, seen or understood.

Twenty three years later they are now incorporated into holidays, businesses and educational programs. They are myths in a new way, in that they now represent the mystical in our lives. Many people call the experience of seeing them a spiritual one.

I had something like that. Years ago whales would regularly beach themselves – remember that? – even on our Australia shores. People from different organizations and lifestyles would attempt to help them back into the sea. I wondered, “Why do whales do this? Why do they beach themselves as a group?” The answer came to me, through a flash of insight: “Because they’re teaching us humans to shed our boundaries, our attitudes of who has authority, who is in charge, and instead work together as a single team for a common purpose.”

Regardless of whether or not you agree with these metaphysical musings, you can go out and experience the spirit of whales for yourself. See if you won’t come back with a new sense of exhilaration, freedom or awe.

To photograph them, you really should be in a boat. (Tip: try to get as close to water level as possible.) And do a little research first with a whale-watching guide like this one (with one of my photos on the cover). Although it’s a few years old, it’s been reprinted and is still quite useful.