Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Humpback Highway

I had chosen to go whale-watching with Mills Charters because I could drive from my campground to their departure point at Hillarys Port in about 20 minutes (including stop to put air in my flat tire), and there was plenty of parking. Plus, their Wednesday trips include free admission to the Western Australia aquarium, which is also located at the port.

I used to get direly seasick back in the nineties. The worst time was off San Diego, when I was bobbing alone in the ocean while my dive buddies were wandering around chasing fins or throwing up. The bobbing got to me as I waited and by the time Jon Babcock hauled me back up onto the boat, I was too weak to even take care of myself. He had to haul me over to the side and put my head over the water so I could vomit into the Pacific, then he had to remove my dive gear and drag me to a bench, where I remained until we got back to port. Somehow, none of this stopped me from going on the Marvel dinner that night, but I probably didn't eat that much.

But I seemed to have gotten my sea legs during my four freighter trips and one QE2 voyage of MariesWorldTour 2001.

Still, yesterday's winds had been strong enough to demolish my tent. I took a Thai version of a Dramamine as soon as I pulled into the Hillarys parking lot.

You know, just in case.

The pilot gave us a typically understated Aussie chat before we set off into the ocean off Perth.

"Yesterday we had a bit of wind so today we'll have three-meter swells. If you're feeling a bit crook, we have bags up by the water. Don't be crook in the wheel house."

The boat's naturalist showed us a plastic humpback whale named Steve so we'd know to look for ridges and dorsal fins, and off we went.

About half our thirty-or-so passengers started rushing for the barf bags within the first ten minutes or so, as the boat went up and down, up and down. The day was clear but the swells were left over from yesterday.

I was now very glad indeed to have taken the Thai motion sickness tablet.

We stayed out for about three-and-a-half hours and saw loads of whales. They weren't as social as the whales in Antarctica had been—there, minke whales had come right up to the Zodiacs and stuck their noses out at us. But these were still pretty cool whales—almost all mums and calves, on their "Humpback Highway" migrations to Antarctica for the Australian summer.

By the end of the first hour, about 70-80 percent of the passengers were sickly, and there was a serious risk of running out of barf bags. I averted my eyes from the garbage can of barf bags and kept them peeled on the ocean, hunting for dorsal fins.

Whales are too fast for you to focus, plan, and shoot. You just have to click your camera when you see one and hope you can pull something out of the shot later in Photoshop.

So here are a few photos from whale-watching near Perth. And here is the whole batch.

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