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.