WATCHING THE WATCHER: A 'spyhopping' humpback whale checks out the occupants of a boat in a close encounter off Yamba. Photo: Contributed
WATCHING THE WATCHER: A 'spyhopping' humpback whale checks out the occupants of a boat in a close encounter off Yamba. Photo: Contributed Contributed

Fishos having a whale of a time off Yamba

RECREATIONAL fishermen were surprised to find their small boat surrounded by a pod of humpback whales off the coast of Yamba earlier this month.

The exciting close encounter was caught on video by Glen Innes amateur fisherman Jason Duffell and shows several whales slapping their fins and spyhopping within metres of the tinny.

A friend of Mr Duffell, Dave Gaden who owns and operates Reel Time Fishing in Yamba, said the video had already "gone viral" in the US.

Mr Gaden said it wasn't uncommon to see lots of whales at this time of year as they where coming past "non-stop all the time".

"In the past 20 years, I'd say each year I'd see about 200 more whales than the year before," he said.

"I do fishing charters out on the ocean on most days; sometimes the whales are all around us.

"I don't remember a day in the last eight weeks I haven't seen one."

The area between Byron Bay and Wooli is well known as a hotspot for whale watching with ideal conditions enticing the whales to hang around for a while rather than simply passing through.

"They turn up wherever they like. I've seen them anywhere from 15 nautical miles offshore to right up near the beach.

"I see about two or three of them every year go right up to the opening of the middle wall in Yamba," he said.

But whale watchers don't need to head out to sea for a view - Mr Gaden said almost every Clarence Valley headland offers a good vantage point and the best conditions for spotting them are when conditions are calm.

"Even now there are still stragglers heading north," Mr Gaden said.

"But the lazy ones, the sooky boys I call them, tend to come up the coast first to get away from the cold and are slow to go back.

"Last year, the last one I spotted heading south was probably in the second week of November."


  • Whales are complex, often highly social and intelligent creatures. Being mammals, they breath air, have hair on their bodies (though only very little), give birth to live young and suckle their calves through mammary glands;
  • Whales are perfectly adapted to the marine environment with strong, muscular and streamlined bodies insulated by thick layers of blubber to keep them warm;
  • Australia is quite privileged when it comes to whales - recent estimates indicate about 45 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises visit or live permanently in Australia, including nine baleen and 36 toothed whales species;
  • Whaling started in Australia in the late 18th century soon after the first settlers arrived. By the early 19th century whaling stations were being developed along the coastline and whaling became one of Australia's first export industries;
  • Rock engravings and contemporary stories show the strong relationship between local Aboriginal people, whales and The Dreaming. Some of these rock engravings and paintings are estimated to be more than 1000 years old;
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  • Remain quiet and do not try to feed or touch them.
  • Be alert and watch for whales and dolphins at all times.
  • When in a vessel, do not approach closer than 100m to any whale or 50m to any dolphin.
  • The caution zone for vessels is the area within 300m of a whale and 150m of a dolphin. No more than three vessels are allowed within the caution zone at any one time and vessels should operate at no-wake speeds within this zone.
  • Approach whales and dolphins from parallel to and slightly to the rear - not from directly behind or head-on.
  • When leaving whales or dolphins, move off at a slow (no wake) speed to the outer limit of the caution zone (300m) from the closest animal before gradually increasing speed.
  • Keep a lookout and avoid disturbance to mother whales or dolphins and their calves. Mother and calf will be close together and the calves are sometimes difficult to see.
  • If there is a sudden change in whale or dolphin behaviour, move away immediately at a slow steady pace.
  • Whales and dolphins sometimes form social groupings and may approach your vessel - if this happens place the engine in neutral and let the animal(s) come to you; or slow down and continue on course; or steer a straight course away from them.
  • Do not get into the water if you see a whale or dolphin. If you're already in the water do not disturb, chase or block the path of a whale or dolphin and if possible, return to your vessel or the shore.
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