Wind, Water and the Lost Art of Whale-Sexing!

Whale with calf at Head of Bight, Nullarbor Plain, South Australia

Whale with calf at Head of Bight, Nullarbor Plain, South Australia

The dry, dusty and unseasonally hot wind that had kept our fuel consumption at an all time high swept us out of the car, whistled around our ankles and bent us double until anchored by our lunch bag we landed in the shelter shed.

The Nullarbor Plain through the windscreen, South Australia

The Nullarbor Plain through the windscreen, South Australia

With any luck, being behind the windbreak would stop our sandwiches filling with sand.

Despite the thrill that came with being on one of the largest Karst landforms in the world, and traversing 90 mile Straight (Australia’s longest), so far our virgin crossing of the famous Nullarbor plain wasn’t really doing it for us.

Even the Scenic Public Toilets* were few and far between. Although there were probably more loos than trees (Null = zero, arbor = tree, geddit?) …

34ºC and winds that bent us double. No campsites out of the wind along the way. And a LOOOOONG way to go across the bite-shaped Great Australian Bight that stretches along a third or more of the southern coastline. Hell, we weren’t even half-way across Australia! We almost didn’t stop.

Bright Blue Bight View!  South Australia

Bright Blue Bight View! South Australia

And now, as we lurked behind the wind break, the killer wind was blowing in the exact right direction to sweep us off the cliffs at the Head of Bight Interpretive Centre. Death-by-cliff-top didn’t really appeal, even if the Bunda Cliffs ARE the longest line of cliffs in the world …

The path led through the Interpretive Centre (where we paid our fee) then down to the viewing platforms nestled in the cliffs. Our visit to one of the largest Southern Right Whale breeding grounds and nurseries in the world had better be worthwhile after the dramas we’d faced to get there.

And on a whale viewing platform above the Great Southern Ocean** in peak creche season (May to October), that meant there’d better be whales.

Head of Bight Boardwalk, Nullarbor Plain, South Australia

Head of Bight Boardwalk, Nullarbor Plain, South Australia

As our wind-assisted passage down the path towards the boardwalks, the bluer than blue water visible over the clifftops stretched far off to an even bluer horizon, unmarred by the black submarine shapes we’d already suffered so much to see.

Bunda Cliffs, Great Australian Bight, South Australia

Bunda Cliffs, Great Australian Bight, South Australia

May as well have just flushed the AUD$12 entry fee down the toilet, I thought as I grimly pushed back against the wind still determined to see me off the cliffs and into the Bight.

Still, I could feel a photo coming on when I saw the boardwalk against the magnificent coastal scenery. I slowed down for the inevitable shot as Pilchard continued down the track.

Then I heard it!

‘It’s a boy!’ a wind-blown traveller exclaimed as she emerged onto the cliff top and drew level with Pilchard. ‘Look down there!’ Pilchard looked, then turned to me and beckoned excitedly.

Bunda Cliffs up close, Great Australian Bight, South Australia

Bunda Cliffs up close, Great Australian Bight, South Australia

‘Forget that photo! It’s much better down here!!’ he cried, as the helpful tourist pointed over the cliff edge and down to the sea. I raced towards them, camera at full stretch and ready for anything.

And there, below us in the water, wallowing RIGHT below us in the water was a whale and her calf. As we both watched (and one of us photographed wildly) the calf put on a fine display directly from the whale-watching handbook.

But one thing was puzzling me. I turned to the helpful traveller.

‘How can you tell it’s a boy?’ I asked, intrigued.

Whale calf at play, Head of Bight, South Australia

Whale calf at play, Head of Bight, South Australia

‘Well, just look at how he’s showing off!’ she replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.  Which perhaps it was.  Is.

Half an hour later, as we reluctantly returned to the hot, dry and dusty Nullarbor, our memory of the spectacular sight of at least 30 whales with calves swimming along the cliffs obscured by one little show off.

Synchronised swimming with mum!  Whales at Head of Bight, Nullarbor Plain, South Australia

Synchronised swimming with mum!  Whales at Head of Bight, Nullarbor Plain, South Australia

Years of corporate life failed to equip me with the skills required for whale-sexing, so I am unable to confirm if our friendly guide’s assessment of this little whale’s gender was correct.

But, until a more accurate explanation – or a more highly qualified whale-sexer – comes along to disprove it, I’ll accept her conclusion.

Somehow I think I’ll be waiting for quite some time …

Want More Information?

* Enjoy 60+ of the BEST Aussie Scenic Public Toilets from all around the country! Click HERE to find out how!!

**As it is known to us Aussies – according to the Eyre Peninsula tourist guide, the rest of the world calls it the Indian Ocean!

38 comments

  • very scientific way to sex a whale! These pix are so beautiful, and the commentary interesting….Could anything be cooler than whale watching from the cliffs…I read that the Bunda cliffs are called the end of the world…..

  • @Agnes – I’ve visited plenty, but I still have many more to go!
    @Les fous du cap – We are so lucky downunder that there’s a lot of great whale watching spots. But I’d never seen anything like this!

  • What beautiful scenery! And any chance to see whales 😉
    Céline & Philippe

  • Beautiful photos!!! I wish I could see as much as you have seen. Been checking your website and I can’t believe in how many places you were able to travel to. 🙂 Keep it up and happy travels

  • @Go Camping – Haha, we didn’t make a special trip just to see whales – but I would have been REALLLY peeved if there weren’t any!! The Nullabor isn’t as barren as you might think – I’d do it again anytime!!
    @PDP – I didn’t even know the Head of Bight existed!! We would have stayed at the nearest roadhouse & gone back for more if the weather hadn’t been so ‘unfortunate’!!
    @Ken G – So did I!!!
    @Aleah – Never?? I guess we’re lucky downunder! There’s quite a few places to see them … but no swimming that I know of – quite apart from anything else, the Southern Ocean is full of sharks!
    @Tracy – Haha – so what incentives are you offering???

  • I have never seen whales that close! Actually never, no matter the distance haha You’re lucky to see them. I wonder if it’s possible to swim with them, like what we have in the Philippines?

  • Tracey Livingston, TLC Retreat

    LOL, the other tourist obviously knew her stuff…? Whales are beautiful to watch and definitely worth the trek.
    I notice you don’t have tags for Port MacDonnell or Mt Gambier yet. I hope you will enjoy them soon and will feature their magnificance here :o)

  • Mmmm… You know I love it :)))

  • Well done Red, great pictures along the very ‘hazardous’ way, but what a fantastic experience seeing the whales, well worth it I bet.

  • It’s a long way to go to see some whales! Imagine going there, and seeing nothing? I am happy that you got some quality whale watching in.

    I have thought about the Nullabor crossing (not too much) and think maybe, its a bit too barren for me….but I am glad that you did it, so on this occasion, I don’t have too.

  • @NewMexiKen – It had me worried there for a few hundred km!! But this made it SO worthwhile!
    @Iris – Hahaha, can just imagine!! Our car was drifting to the right too – but that was because of the wind!!!
    @Glen – Is that an acronym??!!
    @Chris Ciolli – What kind of excuse is that when there’s SO much fun to be had at the other end?? Put on your big boy gear and suck it up!!!

  • Wow, great post. I would love to visit Australia, it sounds like a hoot and a half. It’s just so far away…..

  • Beautiful colors!
    Back then our car drifted to the right. No fun on the 90 miles straight… 😉

  • I’m glad that the trek across the treeless plain was fruitful after all!

  • @darlin – Thank you! And I SO get your homesickness for OZ if the no snow thing is your motto – I think I’ve seen snow maybe 4 or 5 times ever!!
    @Grandma Bonnie – Thank you so much!! I hope your dreams come true – stay watching here because these weren’t the only whales I saw!!
    @Stewart M – Haha, I can’t get enough of whales either!! At least here they were SO big I didnt have to swing my camera once!!
    @Joan Elizabeth – PLEASE don’t let me put you off!! I’d do it all again in a heartbeat – there were so many things we didn’t see that we’ve got on the list for next time!!

  • @River – It’s desolate yes, but in an intriguing ‘oh-my-gosh-is-this-for-real’ kind of way!! The whales made it all worthwhile – so you just go ahead and add this one to your retirement list!
    @Jo – Haha, but I have no kids so I can’t say whether the boy thing is true … sadly, our WA odyssey is over – for this year, anyway!!
    @Are We There Yet! – Well girlfriend, you’ll just have to head downunder – I’ve seen WAAAAY more than this in the wild, although this would have to be the closest I’ve come!
    @Jill – Thank YOU! This was our first Nullarbor crossing – but it won’t be our last. Despite what I’ve said, it’s actually quite fascinating and we look forward to doing it again with hopefully more congenial weather conditions!

  • @FruitCake – Actually, it would have been interesting if it wasn’t too hot/windy/dusty to stop & look at anything!! I can imagine the clear view of a lunar eclipse – sans dust storm, of course!!! And there was only ONE boy (with mum) so maybe that explains the lack of a-b. Just wait ’til they become teenagers!!!
    @Andrew – I never even knew it was there beforehand …
    @Sallie – Haha, I didn’t think of that until after I’d posted – but I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know you’re right!! You should see the spam comments I cleared out this morning!!!
    @Kath – I’ve seen whales at a number of places around the country, but never this many this close!! The Nullarbor is still on my bucket list – without the killer wind!!!
    @Beach Bum – Yeah, baby …
    @Indrani – You don’t need to read the text – the pictures are WAY more exciting!!!

  • @eileeninmd – I’ve seen whales before, but never close enough to tell their gender!!!! Although it’s pretty obvious the large whales are females …
    @Rubye – I would have been pissed if I hadn’t seen them after all that!!!
    @Filip – Thank you!! But you can’t see the wind in the photo!!
    @TMWH – So it hasn’t occurred to you that I made it sound worse than it was under the guise of artistic license?? That’s good, because it WAS crap – apart from the whales!!
    @Rose – Luckily once we dropped below the cliff face and onto the boardwalk, we were right out of the wind!! I’d love to go back when it’s calm … IF it ever is!

  • we are thinking of driving the Nullabor next year. I am not sure if your story makes we want to do it or not … but the whales would be a treat.

  • Great post – the more times I see whales the more times I want to see whales!

    And sometimes the most obvious things need to be pointed out!

    Stewart M – Melbourne

    PS: glad you appreciate the swinging the camera about approach.

  • What a lovely post. Wind and whales so exciting. You got some great photos! Some day I would love to go whale watching. At least I can dream of it. Thanks for sharing.

  • Red you have some fantastic photos here, I love the bluer than blue waters, the whales, and the stunning scenery. I also love your style of writing, you have a real talent going on there, both writing and photography. Your photos make me want to come back to Australia so badly now that our winter is on it’s way. There’s the Autumn chill in the air here, we’ve had snow hit the ground once thus far, just a teaser as it’s all melted thankfully. My new motto I believe for the next while will be “If there’s no snow it’s going to be a beautiful day! 😉 All days are beautiful, just some a bit moreso than others.

    Cheers.

  • thanks for a great post. We are heading over the Nullabor next year, our first time. Certainly not looking forward to the wind!
    Thanks for stopping by my guest post at Zigazag today, it has lead me to your site. Have a great week.

  • How fun!! I have never seen a whale except for at Sea World. To see one in the wild would be wonderful.

  • Loved the idea of the whale being a boy because he’s a ‘show off’. Too funny. What an amazing trip, and wow that wind. I could just feel it. Glad you saw the whales and am wondering if you are headed to WA now?

  • The Nullabor Plain is kind of desolate. I also have never been across it, but my brother has, several times. He lives in Freemantle, but works all over Aus.
    I’m glad you got to see whales and I love the boardwalk photo.

  • Stunning pictures. I often forget to read the text.

  • Bright Blue Bight View! Great Australian Bight, South Australia

    Oh my God! That looks like paradise to me.

  • I’ve never driven the Nullarbor, so it’s still on the bucket list.

    Whale photos are gorgeous. If you want to see some without the boring drive, try Middleton, SA. 🙂

  • Wow! You got pictures of whales at play — fantastic. I’m guessing the title of your post will generate a lot of interest on google. Funny story. I’m glad they were there for you after all that work. Thanks for sharing.

  • What a privilege, one you won’t forget in a hurry.

  • You lucky peoples. The Nullarbor is the world’s most boring road – after the Hume Hwy of course. I hitched a ride once just to say I had done it, but wasn’t allowed to stop and stickybeak anywhere. However, it was a great place to watch a lunar eclipse!

    I like the showing off theory. But if they were boys, wouldn’t there be a little argy-bargy happening?

  • Shame about the darned wind Red, but you sure got some great pics, which I might add ‘look’ so calm and serene!

  • That must have been so exciting after all that wind! I don’t know if I would have made it under such grueling circumstances. I may have just turned back. You are very brave!

  • Great picture of the boardwalk.

    Greetings,
    Filip

  • This is so exciting. After braving that wind and the long walk down, I’m glad you got to see the whales. Again, how exciting!

  • Love the whales, very cool sighting. Loved the photos.

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