The weather was truly glorious last weekend, mild, sunny with light winds. Too tempting to resist another dip into the whale season. My early starts were well rewarded, with about 20 whales over a couple of hours on Saturday morning and twice that many on Sunday. The calm clear conditions meant that the spouts could be seen right out to the horizon. At one point I could see four different pods all spouting at the same time.
One pair swam barely a 100 metres out from my vantage point on the Kurnell cliffs. The calm conditions and clear water meant that you could track their passage underwater by the flash of the white pectoral fins. The sequence below is a single breathing cycle from the pair.
Three weekends into the season and I was becoming focused at spotting whale spouts. I realised just how single minded I had become when about ten minutes after settling onto my cliff top perch I finally looked at the sea directly below to find three seals bobbing in the surge just off the edge of the reef. They were New Zealand Fur Seals, two small juveniles and one a larger but still sub-adult individual. The largest was slowly twisting in the water as it groomed its fur, while the smaller two were sound asleep. They slept in a distinctive posture adopted by seals where they grab their tails in a flipper, pulling their entire body into a bow shaped curve. The flipper is held above the water to help thermo regulate in the warm (for a seal) water.
All three seals spent the next hour or so with their eyes firmly shut, even the one that was rubbing its face between flippers and grooming.
They must have had retained some degree of consciousness, sticking close together and never moving more than a few metres from the reef. This might have been the result of a vortex or eddy formed as the waves flowed against the reef, but I suspect it was a bit more deliberate. Sleepy seals that bob around on open water make a tempting target for Great Whites. The sharks are uncommon but present around Sydney, with a few caught each year in the beach nets and others putting in an appearance whenever a dead whale floats onto the shore. Sleeping up against the edge of the rock platform denied any predators the opportunity for a stealthy lunge from below. The white water coming off the reef may also have obscured the seals outline. Whatever the reason, the result was a fantastic opportunity to photograph three blissfully indolent seals at relatively close range.
I enjoyed the whales, especially one that headed straight towards the rocks at one stage providing a front on view of its head and blowholes. However, once again it was the unexpected wildlife encounter that really made my day. I’ve often seen seals around Sydney, but this was far and away my most satisfying sighting to date. Not bad for a winter’s day!