Perhaps the best thing about Winter on the Gold Coast is the fact that we get front row seats to the migration of whales along our coastline. And now that it is prime time to see these majestic creatures, we thought it best to get to know Marine Biologist Shari Kempshall from Spirit of Gold Coast about her love for the giant mammals and the Gold Coast!
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I was born and bred on the Gold Coast! I moved away for a few years for work and study but moved back at the beginning of this year.
Tell us about your professional career to date.
Since graduating with a Bachelor of Science in 2016, I worked for a few years as a Marine Biologist and Tour Guide on Lady Elliot Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. I left at the beginning of 2020 to start my Master of Environment, and I’m currently studying full time while working at Spirit of Gold Coast. My days consist of watching these beautiful animals as they travel past the Gold Coast on their winter migration, and sharing information with all of our excited passengers about what they’re seeing!
What’s the one thing you love the most about whales?
Everything! What’s not to love? They’re so big, majestic, intelligent and acrobatic. The sound of their blow is my #1 favourite sound in the world because it means that whales are close!
Tell us an interesting fact about whales that many people may not know.
While I think people understand whales are big, it’s hard to grasp exactly HOW big they are! Each of their lungs is the size of a small car, and whales can weigh the same amount as 11 elephants!
How many whales have you seen at once?
Generally humpback whales are more solitary, however we often see small pods of 2-4 migrating together. There has, however, been a few times this season where we are surrounded by multiple pods and don’t know where to look! The most I’ve seen close-up is 10-15, a courtship heat run came past fast and it was all over very quickly, but it was one of the most exciting moments of my life!
How close do whales travel to the Gold Coast shoreline and roughly how many whales pass the Gold Coast each year?
When heading back down south, the whales tend to hug the coastline, particularly mothers and calves. This means they can be just a few hundred metres offshore! We are lucky to see around 30,000-35,000 humpbacks travelling up and down the east coast each year. This number is growing by about 10% each year, as the whale populations are still recovering from intense whaling where there was an estimated 300-500 whales left on our east coast.
Do you have a favourite memory of a time when you were out on a cruise?
Recently we had a pod of around 70+ common dolphins stirring up three humpback whales! While the dolphins love the whales, sometimes they’re just a little too playful for the humpbacks. But on this occasion it resulted in the whales throwing their fins around and they all put on quite a show for us!
What are your Gold Coast favourites…
Café: Stable Coffee in Currumbin
Coffee spot: Any coffee on the beach is a winner! I love getting takeaway and walking Burleigh Hill or heading to Point Danger Lookout.
Restaurant: Balboa Italian
Bar or pub for a drink: Currumbin Surf Club – that view!!
How do you choose to spend your weekends? At the moment I’m spending them watching whales! But if I’m not whale watching I probably heading out into nature with my loved ones.
For discounted tickets to Spirit of Gold Coast Whale Watching – click here.
It’s the season to go whale watching! Every year from May to November we are blessed to have thousands of Humpback Whales passing through the Gold Coast’s warm waters. Everyone knows the magical feeling of spying one of the majestic mammals from afar so, in the spirit of sharing, we’ve found the top six spots to see them (for FREE) from the shore.
Point Danger Lookout, Coolangatta
Point Danger Lookout is right on the NSW – QLD border and features the Captain Cook Memorial Statue and some pretty amazing views to the north and the south. Duranbah Beach (D’bah to the locals) is right below, so keep your camera ready to capture the surfers in action. Oh, and of course it’s a great place to watch whales play out in the ocean, they even have public binoculars. For a fresh juice or acai bowl, stroll on down into closeby juicery Liquid Dreams. You won’t be disappointed.
Kirra Hill, Kirra
Just a bit further north is Kirra Hill, another picturesque piece of land. You can either drive or walk up (be warned, it’s quite steep) and then just enjoy the view, it’s pretty special! Once you’re done, head back down into Coolangatta and check out one of the trendy eateries along Marine Pde (our hot eating tip is Little Cooly – because who doesn’t love pizza and pasta).
Tumgun Lookout, Burleigh Heads
Sitting atop the Burleigh Heads National Park is Tumgun Lookout. It’s higher than Burleigh Point and gives you a different angle all together (on a clear day you can see all the way to Coolangatta). Put on some activewear, run up Tumgun Lookout through the National Park and enjoy the breathtaking view, and keep a lookout for the BIG SPLASH!
Burleigh Point, Burleigh Heads
Burleigh Point is paradise, the most peaceful place on earth not to mention a perfect Tinder-date location. It’s easy to spend a whole day here and not get bored. What a coincidence that it’s also one of the best whale-watching vantage points on the Coast. When you have had enough whale sightings, have a bev at Burleigh Heads Bowls Club or for a fresh Vietnamese takeaway bite head to Bunlee Bun & Brew.
Miami Hill, Miami
Located in between North Burleigh Surf Club and Miami Surf Club is the Miami Hill lookout. The all-wooden verandah stretches around the headland and offers you great views to the north and south. We suggest going in the afternoon for whale watching and staying ’til dusk to see the sunset over the hinterland. Then take and easy walk down the hill to pop in for a G&T at recently renovated The Miami.
The Spit, Main Beach
The Spit may not be the highest lookout on the Coast but it surely is closest to the action as it stretches way out to sea. It’s a great place to take your doggo for a walk and enjoy the scenery (go for a swim if it’s warm enough – we dare you!).
Now if you do want to see the whales for an up close and more exhilirating experience, check out Spirit of Gold Coast for a 2.5hr whale watching cruise.
By Louisa von Ingelheim
Watching a whale in its natural, salty environment is one of the most breathtaking experiences there is. Whether they’re leaping out of the water or simply cruising along, nothing compares to seeing an animal as big as a bus just 50 metres away.
Luckily, we on the Gold Coast are privy to this exact phenomenon every year and, you guessed it, whale migration season is upon us once again.
In honour of our favourite time of year, we’ve gathered some fun facts on Humpback Whale migration for your learning pleasure.
1. Over 27,000 Humpback Whales are set to make the annual migration along the East Coast of Australia this year. Only 30 years ago, there were less than 300 of the majestic beauties left in the world after they were hunted to near extinction.
2. The reason for their almost 5,000 kilometre migration is to breed and give birth after spending months down south loading up on a hearty diet of krill.
3. Regardless of the fact that adult Humpback Whales can grow to weigh over 30,000 kilograms, they love to launch themselves out of the water during playtime using their tail fin, which acts as a propeller. Known as breaching, the big guys do this both as a way of communicating and simply because it’s good old-fashioned fun. Pure magic to experience firsthand.
4. Humpback Whales have blowholes the size of a small car and return to the surface every seven to 15 minutes to breathe. Due to the amount of air they’re able to take in they can stay submerged for up to 45 minutes if necessary.
Whale watching season on the Gold Coast runs from June to October and you can catch these incredible Humpbacks in their natural environment aboard Spirit of Gold Coast who have over 20 years experience, plenty more whaley good facts and up to 30% off with their coupon here.
FIND THEM: Leaves from Mariners Cove Marina (next to the helicopter pad), Seaworld Drive, Main Beach seven days a week with tours departing at 9.30am.
Words by Kirra Smith