Skipper Wayne Hoey on the lookout for whales in Keppel Bay.
Skipper Wayne Hoey on the lookout for whales in Keppel Bay. Jens Kraeft

Having a whale of a time in Keppels

WHILE Hervey Bay has built a reputation as the whale-watching capital of Queensland, the Capricorn Coast is looking to create its niche in this growing tourism market.

Weighing up to 40 tons each and migrating north in their thousands, there are an increasing number of humpback whales coming closer to our shores than ever.

When surfers and sailors get too close to these acrobatic creatures, it can pose a danger to both the whale and anyone nearby in the water.

But there is one way to get closer to these remarkable animals safely.

Until the end of October, Keppel Konnections is running twice daily whale-watching tours four days a week around the Keppel Islands.

Keppel Konnections skipper Wayne Hoey said his fascination with whales started when he accidentally hit one.

"I don't think I'd like to tell people that," he joked.

"We were sailing at night on auto-pilot and bang, all of a sudden we just came to a complete stop.

"We then went up in the air but thankfully we kept going.

"I believed he was sleeping at the time but I've since found out that whales never sleep because they consciously have to breathe.

"They can semi-sleep and they go into some sort of trance on the surface."

Mr Hoey said while he could never guarantee a whale sighting, the chances were high at this time of year.

"We have days when we would have seen about 10 by now, and today we may or may not see them, they are a little bit like that," he said.

"But as the year progresses, they seem to get more regular.

"We were seeing them in early June this year and that's the earliest I've ever seen them.

"We've just become interested in knowing more about them from seeing so many these days."

GKI Hideaway group manager Kelly Harris said the high number of whales passing the Keppel Island through led to this new tie-up with Keppel Konnections.

"There's so many whales coming through this area now, and we're of the belief that the more activities going on in this region, the better it is for everyone," Mr Harris said.

Mr Harris said there was definitely room in the market for the Capricorn Coast to challenge Hervey Bay's hold on the whale-watching market.

"We actually get a lot of comments from people that had been whale watching in Hervey Bay who say they saw more whales on our ferry coming over for the transfer," he said.

"We would love to be able to guarantee a whale sighting, but as part of the Keppel Konnections package, if we go out whale watching and you don't happen to see a whale, we'll also throw you complimentary return transfers to Great Keppel."

One of the unique selling points of Keppel Konnections whale-watching tours is the on board presence of local Woppaburra man, Nerark Morris.

The Woppaburra people are the traditional owners of the Keppel Island group.

Mr Morris said the Woppaburra had a long association with whales.

"The muga muga or the humpback whale is our totem so they are a very important part of our culture here, especially when we're doing things like whale watching," Mr Morris said.

"He's a very powerful part of our culture, he was the one who created these islands.

"In the Dreamtime story, he would come here, smash into the side of the islands, and scatter them into 17 different pieces.

"There's one beach called Red Beach and that's where he beached himself and bled on there."

Mr Morris said it was his duty to ensure whale-watchers returned safely on each tour and the muga muga was treated in the right way.

"It's like a family relationship. I look out for them and they look out for me," he said.

"Having me on board allows people to come in here, receive a blessing, and travel through country in a safe manner."

For more information on whale watching tours, phone Keppel Konnections on 0484 241 505.

Rival company Freedom Fast Cats also runs whale watching tours twice a day, Monday to Saturday, between July and September. Phone 4933 6888.

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