Thar? she blows
By ADRIAN MILLER
SWIMMERS in Yamba were treated to a rare sight yesterday when a whale and her new-born calf frolicked with a pod of dolphins near Turners Beach.
The whales, which were rare southern right whales, were spotted at daybreak by surfers and walkers.
They were first seen swimming close to the rocks at the southern end of the beach, and almost came into contact with surfers on a few occasions.
They spent the morning swimming between the break wall and the rocks, with the calf continually breaching.
Some whale watchers said they believed the calf had been born early yesterday morning, although that was unconfirmed.
The whales were easy to spot ? their fins and tails majestically rising out of the sea and slapping back down, much to the delight of the crowd.
The mother kept a close eye on her offspring and throughout the morning she continued to shield the calf as it played, ensuring it was never far away.
In the early afternoon they drifted to within 50 metres of the rocks at Turners Beach and were joined by the pod of up to 20 dolphins.
From there the whales ventured south, passing Main and Convent beaches before heading out to sea in the middle of the afternoon.
Excited onlookers lined the breakwall and rocks at Turners, with surfers and swimmers watching from the shore.
One lucky surfer had a close-up view after he paddled to within 50 metres of the whales.
A whale watcher said his son had earlier had a close encounter with the calf.
"He was surfing this morning and saw the whales swimming around and saw the calf swim right underneath his board," he said.
Another observer was blown away by the experience.
"It's just awesome, they are beautiful creatures," she said.
"This is the closest I've ever seen whales before and it's just a beautiful sight.
"I think it's just incredible."
National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) spokesman Lawrence Orel said southern right whales were rare for northern NSW.
"It's only been in very recent times that southern right whales have been returning to parts of their former northerly range," he said.
"They were virtually wiped out because of whaling and historically they were found as far north as Byron Bay, and it's only now that as the population slowly increases that they are returning to parts of their former range."
Mr Orel said it was not unusual for southern rights to be found so close to shore.
"It can come in quite close to the shoreline, it's not unusual for them to be in the surf break," he said.
"Particularly a mother and calf, they can venture into very shallow water ? up to two metres or even shallower ? and they will often just be resting or playing."
Mr Orel said it was possible the calf was born in Yamba.
"Mothers actively seek out inlets or sheltered bays to calf and then spend a couple of hours in the general location while the calf gets ready and learns all the skills," he said.
"In all likelihood it's a very recent birth and likely to be born in the local area which is a very good and positive sign the population is on the way to recovery."