Every year, from July to November, humpback whales come to Hervey Bay on their southern migration. In contrast to the open coastline, where whales are in a “migration mode” to their feeding grounds in the Antarctic, the bay is shallow, sheltered, and warm. It is the perfect place for the whales to aggregate, rest, and socialize. As a result, whales display a vast array of behaviors and interactions that make Hervey Bay a very unique whalewatching destination. Not surprisingly, some people refer to Hervey Bay as “Australia’s whalewatch capital.”
In addition to the most common humpback whale behaviors that can be seen in Hervey Bay, such as breaching, tail slapping, head lunging, etc., whales in Hervey Bay will often approach a vessel and stay within close proximity, interacting with people on board for significant periods of time. This behavior is known as “mugging”.
Hervey Bay is the only area in the world where curious humpback whales consistently mug vessels. It is not uncommon to be unable to go anywhere because a pod of whales keeps interacting with your vessel. Indeed, you need to wait for them to move away first, following Australian regulations , which require whales to be 100 metres from a vessel before engines can be operated.
When being mugged, whales will approach the vessel, and sometimes circle around it. The whales will often look at the people on board, tilting their bodies to one side or spyhopping, when a whale vertically pokes its head out of the water in order to scan the surroundings. People are always in awe as it is a very unique experience. Sometimes it makes you wonder who is actually watching who.
Whales also dive under the vessel to pop up on the other side, repeating this behavior over and over. It often feels like playing a game of hide and seek where people on board will move from side to side in an attempt to guess where the whales will surface next. At times, the whales can be so close that our camera lenses are too big to take a photo.
Below is a video that the research team filmed last whale season from our research vessel that captured what it is like to be mugged by whale(s).
Being mugged by a humpback whale for the first time is an exhilarating and breathtaking experience that will stay with you forever. Every day is different on the water but if you get the chance to be mugged again, I promise, you will never get tired of it.