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Whale Watching Coffs Harbour – Experience The Magic For Yourself

whale watching coffs harbour- humpback whale breaching

It had been a little while coming, but our Whale Watching experience with Jetty Dive in Coffs Harbour finally happened. Would I finally get that photo of a breaching Humpback that I have been wanting?

Heading Out Whale Watching In Coffs Harbour NSW

As we cruised out between Muttonbird Island and the South Breakwall, the excitement grew.

Heading out of the harbour past South Breakwall.
whale watching coffs harbour - the south breakwall at coffs harbour with it's huge concrete blocks.
South Breakwall at Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia photographed from Muttonbird Island.

Our crew had told us that their sister boat had radioed; they were out with some Humpback Whales and they had been hanging around for a while. We were guaranteed to see some.

We sailed past South Coff Island where a flock of Seagulls were feverishly hunting fish.

There were some quite large swells drifting by and as I photographed the Seagulls I thought “this is going to be a challenge.” I haven’t spent a lot of time taking photos from a boat. The added movement presents a real challenge.

a flock of seagulls with a rocky outcrop in the background photographed while whale watching in coffs harbour
Seagulls hunting for breakfast near South Coff Island, Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia.

You can book your own Whale Watching cruise in Coffs Harbour New South Wales from Jetty Dive’s website.

Our First Whale Sighting

Perhaps 10 minutes after we left the harbour, we had our first whale sighting. There were two whales pectoral slapping and diving.

To see them so close (within about 50 to 100 meters from the boat), is nothing less than awe-inspiring.

*Techie camera-speak warning!*

Earlier that morning, I had put my UV filter onto my 55-200mm lens to cut down the glare from the water. I also thought that if we happened to see any whales or turtles beneath the surface of the water, it would help to be able to photograph them as the UV filter improves visibility. It’s like sunglasses for your camera.

There was a lot of smoke haze around because of the bush fires. As a result of that, and having my UV filter on, I had to use a slightly higher ISO than I wanted to.

The first shot above of the pectoral fin was shot at 1/1250th sec, f6.3, ISO 800 and 200mm. I chose such a high shutter speed because of the movement of the boat and the speed at which the whales slap their fins down on the water.

The shot in the middle and the one to the right were both shot at 1/800 sec, f8.0, ISO 800 and 200mm. I dropped my shutter speed to 1/800 sec because I stopped down to f8.0 to get a bit larger depth-of-field. Choosing 1/800th second helped me keep my exposure the same as the first shot.

All of the photos in this blog post were taken using Back Button Auto-focus. You can read about this technique in my What Is Back Button Focus blog post.

Surrounded by Humpback Whales

Moving on from the first couple of whales, we soon found another pod of three. The shot below shows two of them swimming by, the ridges down the length of their back behind the dorsal fin clearly visible.

Did you know that the section of their body behind the dorsal, down to the tail is called the Peduncle? No? Me either?!?

the dorsal fins of two humpback whales rise above the waters of coffs harbour
Two Humpback Whales swim by our boat

Soon after these whales swam on, our captain told us that we were surrounded by about 7 or 8 whales all-up!

Waiting for a breach…

Whale watching is a game of patience. When the whales dive, you have no idea where they will surface again. When they do come up, it is very possible that they might breach.

I stood on the deck of that boat like a sniper, scanning the surface with my lens, excitedly anticipating the moment I could finally get a shot of a whale breaching.

When one finally did breach…………I was not ready! I had my lens pointing in another direction and missed the photo.

This happened a couple more times, with one breaching within about 20 meters of the boat!!

I was getting a little downhearted. Was the breaching photo going to elude me?

Time to Head In

We had already been out longer than we should, which is a credit to Jetty Dive. I highly recommend them if you are ever in the Coffs Harbour area and thinking of whale watching.

Two whales had been entertaining us with some pectoral-slapping and tail-showing. Our captain announced that we had to head back soon because we’d drifted a long way from the harbour and it would take a while to get back.

I pleaded with the whales to breach (as if somehow they understand English!), just one more time…….

Then it happened. And, as luck would have it, I had my lens pointed in the right direction.

The Whale Watching Coffs Harbour Jetty Dive Experience

We had just had the most magical couple of hours. It was fantastic that the boat only held about 12 or 14 tourists too. Having space to move about and take photos was great.

Our crew got us safely back into the harbour, navigating what was becoming a rather rough swell with the skill of a couple of old salty dogs of the sea.

To top off the experience, our captain did a few doughnuts in the harbour.

Thanks Jetty Dive. My family and I will be back again next whale watching season…….

Before you go, be sure to share this post with any whale-lovers you know using the buttons below. Thanks for reading my blog. Come back again soon for another post.

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