As a young girl, I was always fascinated by the natural world and our interaction with it. I loved seeing any wildlife that I could, with a particular interest in horses… in case you hadn’t already guessed. My love of wildlife became a forefront in my world when I packed my bags and went off to University. Studying Marine and Natural History Photography was the perfect steppingstone into taking an interest in wildlife further.
My best friend, Madison, has created an incredible film about captive Orca’s, you can view it here. Experiencing Madison’s journey to creating this film was eye opening. Watching Madison’s film on captive cetaceans (marine mammals) led me to educate myself on whales, dolphins and all things that swam. When I learnt that whales were migrating past Perth, I just knew that I had to see them for myself. I am very much a land person, I wasn’t born a water baby and really struggle to be comfortable in the water up until a year or so ago, when I became determined to learn to swim in order to see the underwater world.
My first top pick of wildlife you may see in Western Australia is whales.
I have always been a bit sceptical of wildlife spotting tours, primarily because you see so many tours that are downright unethical. Many invade the animal’s safe zones or interrupt their breeding areas. After a lot of searching and reading reviews, I found Whale Watching Western Australia, a family run business based in Fremantle. Upon setting foot on their catamaran, you could tell this was a family that were dedicated to ethical ecotourism. One of their daughters was manning the tannoy, informing us on whale behaviour, eating patterns and their migration route. Every single question that was fired at this family, they knew the answer too.
They spoke in detail about how their business is ethically run, a question that I was grateful was asked. They adhere to the rules set out by the Australian government. We aren’t to go within a certain distance of the whales, which I think is 300 meters. Once we were within a distance of a whale, our engine was switched off and we just floated until they had gone on their merry way.
Our first wildlife encounter was with a blue whale, would you believe that!? Another vote for Whale Watching Western Australia as the passion for the whales is there, the atmosphere on the boat was like electric. Blue Whales are rarely spotted at this time of the year near Perth. The commentator said that it was a juvenile male young whale that was still finding his feet a bit. Top tip for whale spotting, keep an eye on the surface of the water, there will be a whale ‘footprint’, which is where the water texture will change to it almost looking like oil is floating on the water. We stayed with the blue whale for about 40 minutes, watching him swim and navigate the water. We wished him on his way as he swam off at a rate of knots.
After seeing the magical Blue whale, I didn’t think it could get better, but it did. We came across a small pod of humpback whales. There was a mother, calf and escort male. When we spotted them, the mother was on her back and slapping the water with her fins, encouraging her calf to do the same. We watched the calf learning how to slap the water with his fins for a good 10 minutes. During this display the boat had been turned off, we were free floating. The whales went under the water for a few minutes, before resurfacing right at the hull of our boat, I really couldn’t believe my eyes then.
Whale Watching Western Australia have created their own ‘language of whales’. The commentator was saying that the whales had gotten used to their boat and the mother felt comfortable bringing her calf over and showing it off. These whales stayed with us for over an hour, just swimming about and continuing to practice slapping their fins on the water.
You can book to go Whale watching with Whale Watching Western Australia here.
The second experience is Quokka’s.
The day after whale watching we headed off on an adventure to Rottnest Island for the day. Having watched a few travel vlogs of Rottnest Island I knew about the local wildlife. However, my dad didn’t.
We had chosen to get a custard doughnut (oh my goodness, so good!) from the Rottnest Bakery before heading to a beach. As we were sat at a table, my dad suddenly shot up and legged it a good few meters away. I looked down at the floor and sat there was a Quokka. A mix between a kangaroo, rat and chinchilla, a Quokka isn’t your average animal. Standing at about 30 cm, they have a similar movement to a kangaroo, but look like an overgrown rat with a long tail, they really are quite strange.
The Quokka’s are super friendly and used to human interaction. I didn’t personally get too near, however there were people taking selfies with them. You can find them pretty much all over the island.
It was these small fluffy animals that made my father jump out of my skin and run away.
Whilst on Rottnest Island we stopped at Salmon Bay to do some snorkelling. We snorkelled to our hearts content and then had a beautiful snooze. Whilst we were snoozing, mum suddenly shouted the one word that would wake me from any deep sleep; ‘DOLPHINS’. We were all up and at the water’s edge in a flash. Their fins were dipping in and out of the water as they swam in the bay. The fins were so big that we did question whether they were Orca’s or not.
Just as we were packing all of our bits up to move onto another bay, Dad said ‘What is that big bird in the water?’, as I looked over my first reaction was ‘Bloody hell, there’s a vulture in the water!’. As I walked over, very slowly, with my camera in hand, I realised that there were too many feathers on its head to be a vulture. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing, but in front of them, having the wash of its life, was an Osprey. The very same Osprey’s that I had photographed in Scotland in May. Well, not the exact same Osprey, but the same species. I was trying to piece together what on earth were they doing in Australia, when I remembered that they migrate to warmer climates during the UK’s winter. Keep your eyes on the sky people!
The third and most incredible experience was swimming with Sea Lions.
Now, I knew that I said that seeing the Whales was the highlight of the trip. I have been completely spoilt as towards the end of my trip, I seriously had the best day of my life. My bonus -grandma’s granddaughter, Nina, took us out to Seal Island just off the boat of Rockingham. We paddled out in kayaks to Seal Island, which is an island full of Sea Lions, funnily enough. We spent 2 glorious hours swimming with Sea Lions. I can’t quite believe it myself, but we did.
Seal Island is a protected Marine area, so there are only a few commercial boats that travel the water there, hence why we kayaked over there. The island itself is protected and has no access to humans, the Sea Lions, pelicans and other wildlife can live in total peace. We floated around for about 45 minutes, just watching the interactions between the Sea Lions. After a little while, one fella decided he wanted to know what we were doing and came over to say hello. As soon as he was in the water, we abandoned our kayaks, big shout out to Tristan, Nina’s boyfriend for herding them all back up, and got in the water with him.
Jumping into unknown water, where I can’t touch the bottom is a pretty big thing for me, but swimming with this beautiful Sea Lion took complete and utter priority. Kitted out with my snorkel, mask and underwater camera I was ready to come face to face with a pretty impressive sea lion and he was incredible. I was assuming that they were pretty chilled and would just have a swim and then go back to sunbath, how wrong was I! This fella was so playful and curious.
A gentleman who was also swimming with us, started to jump out of the water and dive down, our initial looks of ‘What is he doing?’ were soon answered when the sea lion started imitating him. Leaping out of the water, blowing bubbles at us and waving with his fin were behaviours we saw during the next hour. I honestly felt like crying with how blessed we were to be witnessing this.
After playing with him for quite a while, we wished the Seal goodbye as he swam back up to the beach for a well-deserved snooze in the sun. We clamoured, rather ungracefully, back onto our kayaks and were just about to set sale back to the beach when Flo shouted, ‘There’s two more!!!’ over to our right, two seals were frolicking about in the shallows. We paddled over and sat to see whether they were just chilling out or whether they also wanted to play with us. Play with us, they did.
We think that these two seals were in love. Under the water the sea lions were giving each other kisses, really just the sweetest experience to watch. After a little while, one of them swam back to the beach whilst the other stayed to play. Nina started to swim around in circles with the Sea Lion who loved this interaction. This particular Sea Lion kept jumping over Nina, keeping pace beside her and just enjoying her.
Sometimes, I get concerned about too much human interaction with wildlife. Having experienced the Sea Lions playing with us, I had no doubts that these animals like having us about. Seeing them in their natural habitat is such a special experience and one that I will never forget.
I really can not wait to go back and explore some more!