Part 2: H2 and Migaloo the white whales + humpback migration with Captain Kerry Lopez

Guided Tours Natural Attractions Family Fun

Posted 31 August


Recently, we caught up with Captain Kerry Lopez of the luxury catamaran, Eye Spy. With 24 years’ experience, Captain Kerry has a lot of stories and knowledge to share. This is part two of our series discussing H2 and Migaloo, the white whales, as well as the humpback whale migration. Read part one here.

Brisbane Whale Watching Moreton Bay Region

How far from the whale do travelling boats need to stop?

By regulation 100 meters, but if the whale comes to you, you have to remain stationary. When the whales are moving the boat has to remain on the side, so keep the whale midship at all times so you are not leapfrogging or chasing.

How many babies does a whale have?

They become sexually active at 5 years old and then have a baby every second year after that. There has been recording of a whale living until 80 years old but the majority of whales will live until they are 50 or 60. They have the longest bonding relationship in the mammal world so these calves will stay with their mum for 18months. Babies will double their weight in the first year.

What are some traits that are unique to the humpback whale?

Mainly it is the surface activity, the humpback is the most active of all the whales. Not all the whales will pectoral slap at you, wave at you, tail slap, breeching, spy hopping. Their surface is the most unique thing that sets them apart from other whales.

The other thing is their long pectoral fins; most other whales have short pectoral fins. The humpbacks have massive long pectoral fins, some up to 5 metres in length.

Brisbane Whale Watching Moreton Bay Region

Why do humpbacks breach?

There are a few reasons scientists believe they do it and one is the males competing for females, also to remove the sea lice and barnacles because the force of the breach removes all those barnacles, sight where the vessels are as they can hear different engine noises so they breach to sight the vessel. Also, communicate between the pods. They are incredibly intelligent.

We like to think it’s for us.

How can you tell the difference between male & female whales while whale watching?

Often the whales will roll belly up and you can tell by the shape of the genital slit. So the female will be a Y shape. The males will be wider at the bottom with two internal bulges at the end.

Do you know any other whales by sight? Do you have names for them?

Over the years I have named over 30 whales.

  1. Mad Maggie – she’s missing her dorsal fin.
  2. Razor Back – he’s got 6 deep propeller wounds behind his blowhole
  3. Billie – really unique as humpbacks traditionally are all white under the belly but he is all black under the belly and that’s common with the northern hemisphere humpback.
  4. Stitches – he has markings up the middle of his flute that look like he has been stitched up.
  5. Marbles – you see him and he is covered in a marble pattern.
  6. Mohawk – predominately ¾ white but has a black stripe down his back.
  7. We had a baby born under Eye Spy and we called him Moreton. He has a little chip out of his flute.

So we identify them by their markings. I mean where do I stop!

Say you are on board a whale watching trip and you see a new whale you have never seen before, what is the process then, do you have to report it to an organisation?

No, we see so many. We keep the data ourselves – so we record it all but we don’t send it to anyone. Once upon a time we would send it into Parks and Wildlife but found out they did nothing with it. So we share all our information with Queensland Museum and donate to different organisations.

Brisbane Whale Watching Moreton Bay Region

What does a typical day look like for Captain Kerry?

First of all boarding the boat looking and watching all the excited passengers jumping on board Eye Spy for a day out in the marine park with the whales. So that’s pretty exciting. They can be anywhere for little babies to 100-year-old people. So you get to meet and greet a lot of different nationalities, and a lot of different people from all around the world.

And then we depart the jetty and head out to the marine park. We do a commentary on the islands surrounding the bay and cruise really close to the island and right next to Moreton Island.

And then we get into the whale sighting ground, and that’s when it gets really exciting.

So once we have spotted the whales I will give everyone an idea of how we will use the boat as a clock so that they know where the whales will be and then we stay with the whales and give them a commentary about the behaviours that we are observing and how many whales we have sighted. We see tears, we see lots of different emotions. All the oos and the ahhs and the Eye Spy magic comes out!

What is the best part of your job?

The whales, dolphins and turtles! And of course the people! Seeing the emotions of people. The whales are very mesmerising and unique animal and I think to be able to share the environmental facts and educate people on how they have gone from near extinction to nearly full recovery. That’s a real buzz.

But not only that also the crew – to see my crew come up through the ranks as well. I’ve had a lot of crew come up the ranks who are now captains. Jai on board here just got his class 5 so he docked the boat today, and that gives me a lot of joy.

It makes it all worthwhile because not only do they love the whales they love the people, they love the interaction and they get a career.

What is the normal size group they travel in?

This year we have been experiencing between 3 and 5. Historically it has been two and then they will join up every now and then but last year we had 11. 

Book your Whale Watching Tour today with Brisbane Whale Watching and #visitmoretonbayregion

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