To see the whales in the Bay is not simply watching large objects floating in the water. As said before, Humpbacks are the most playful and acrobatic of all the big whales. They can be seen laying on their side "pec slapping", raising their large pectoral fins straight out of the water and slapping it hard against the surface. They are often seen swimming like this, passing vessels close by, but ignoring them. Some years ago a friendly Humpback swam alongside the "Safari Princess", wetting children on the bow with its pec-slaps. After a while another vessel pulled alongside to watch, but the whale immediately went to the opposite side, so the people aboard that vessel could not see, but "our" whale continued its play. The other vessel moved also to that side, but again the whale changed position. Another vessel pulled up and as we now had a vessel on either side of us, the whale simply disappeared.
Only when both vessels left the area, "our" whale came from under our vessel, did a "spyhop", look carefully over the children and started to pec-slap towards the kids for another hour! This whale wanted to communicate, but not with other vessels around! A "spyhop" is when a whale sticks its head out of the water to look around.
The "tail-slap" is another form of communication, sometimes to other whales or vessels, meaning: "you're in my territory" or "this is close enough" or "don't follow me". Skippers of commercial whale watch vessels are becoming increasingly familiar with the communication signals of the Humpback whales and the whales seem to be accepting the vessels without any sign of becoming disturbed or alarmed. Being "mugged" is another addition to the colourful language of the fleet. Picture a vessel with sixty people hanging over the side, watching Humpback whales very VERY close to the vessel (say two metres away). These "visits" can last for minutes, sometimes for over an hour, yet there are occasions where these whales give the impression, that they have no intention of leaving at all. Then there is this frantic call on the radio: "Can anyone assist to try and attract the attention of these whales, so I can go home?"
This is happening more and more. And what a great feeling. Here we have the fifth largest animal, that ever lived on this planet, in the wild yet totally at ease with man, in a kind of trust we don't deserve. Another new phrase amongst the operators is: "Pick a pod". Every year there are more whales in the Bay and original concerns, that there were too many vessels and too few a pods proved totally unfounded. Ask another operator about the position of the whales on a day and the new answer is : "Pick a pod, any pod, any where". And with the same number of operators each year the position can only get better.