Celebrating the Unique Bond Between a Local Community and the Visiting Humpback Whales

There is no other place in the world quite like Hervey Bay when it comes to experiencing the natural environment of the magnificent humpback whale. These creatures visit the bay near this coastal community on their migration south along the eastern coast of Australia, a part of the ‘humpback highway’ that will eventually lead them to their feeding grounds in Antarctica. However, unlike other whalewatching locations along the coast, whales will stop here for up to 10 days to rest, play, and socialize in the calm, protected waters of the bay before continuing south. It’s an incredible chance to see behaviours that aren’t regularly witnessed at other spots along their migration.

In a celebration of this unique relationship, the Hervey Bay Ocean Festival was started in 1994 to recognise the importance of the ocean to the community of Hervey Bay. Each year, the festival includes a variety of events and activities designed to connect visitors and locals alike with the marine environment and animals that are unique and important to the region. The entire community is able to come together and express their appreciation for the amazing ecosystem that’s right in their own background.

This year, the festival kicked off on August 11 with the Fraser Coast Kite Karnival, where participants coloured in their own kites and oogled over the massive novelty kites being steered through the skies in the shape of sea turtles, manta rays, and whales. The following day, the Hervey Bay Seafood Festival was a smashing success – it is the only seafood festival in Australia that’s managed by the women and men who catch the food for you. It was a celebration of local seafood, craft beer and wine, and fabulous music by local artists, all happening near Urangan Harbour.

The following week provided visitors with the chance to further explore the region and embark on whalewatch cruises offered by local operators, including Pacific Whale Foundation Australia. We offered two of our popular VIP Ultimate Whalewatches, each narrated by our very own in-house whale expert, Dr. Paul Forestell.

The next weekend was all about the whales. The Fraser Coast Chronicle Whale Parade & Concert lit up Pialba on Saturday, August 18. An enchanting spectacle of lights and floats representing the humpback whales’ migration wove its way around the Seafront Oval, creating an enchanting evening “under the sea” for all of the attendees. Adults and children alike dressed in their finest ocean-themed attire – it was exciting to see everyone getting involved! Who wouldn’t want to be a mermaid or a jellyfish for an evening?

The culmination of the Ocean Festival was the Paddle Out for the Whales on Sunday, a beloved tradition amongst Hervey Bay residents and visitors. Creativity has always been encouraged for this event, where paddlers bring their kayaks, SUPs, inflatable seashells and unicorns, or homemade rafts to celebrate the whales of Hervey Bay and bring awareness to efforts centered on their conservation. There was a heartwarming moment of silence in the middle of the paddle to honour whales around the world that have dealt with various threats and misfortunes.

The Hervey Bay community has such a unique bond with the ocean and the animals that visit the nearby waters. It’s the perfect place to visit this time of year, whether you’re a bit of thalassophile (ocean-lover) or simply an appreciator of local culture and community involvement. We’re excited to see what surprises and delights next year’s festival will bring!

Posted by:Lauren Fritz

Lauren is a marine naturalist and guide who has worked on a variety of whale-watching and ecotourism vessels around the world. After two seasons as a guide in Maui and two in the San Juan Island, she moved to New Zealand to work with dusky dolphins and experience a new marine environment. She currently writes about her experiences and various conservation topics with the Pacific Whale Foundation's "Beyond the Breach" blog and on her personal website, www.thegreenestblue.com.

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