By Marc Llewellyn
It was the right whale for the wrong reason, says Felicity Brown, chief pilot of Chinta Air.
Felicity is referring to the southern right whales that are gathering in the Head of Bight Marine Park on the edge of the Nullarbor to give birth and to breed.
“They swam really slowly, making them easy to catch,” Brown recounts. “They had a lot of blubber too and when they were harpooned they floated on the surface. That’s why they were called the ‘right’ whale, rather than the ‘wrong’ whale.”
These days, more than 100 southern right whales swim up from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to the shallow waters of the marine park, making in the largest gathering of this species in Australia.
And, from July 1 to September 30 2016, Chinta Air offered a Whale and Wheels Package from Adelaide to witness the spectacle.
Whale-watchers fly with Regional Express to Ceduna and then pick up an all-wheel-drive hire car to travel the 295km to the Nullarbor Roadhouse.
A stop off along includes a clifftop viewing point where you usually spot your first whales.
After arriving at the Nullarbor Roadhouse you take a 30-minute scenic flight with Chinta Air over the Head of Bight’s dramatic ocean and cliff-top scenery.
“You get spectacular aerial views of the Bunda cliffs and sand dune complexes and you see dozens of whales from the air in the shallow blue water,” says Brown.
The first whales to arrive are expectant mothers who travel with an unrelated female, known as an aunty.
“They aunties are protection against great white sharks who are after the calf, a mother in distress, or the afterbirth,” Brown says.
“Then, in early August, the bull whales arrive and you can see them breaching and tail flapping as they try to get the attention of the aunties, who they want to breed with.”
Home for the night is a motel room at the Nullarbor Roadhouse, a popular fuel, restaurant and accommodation stop.
It’s an early start the next day for a 180km drive back east to Fowlers Bay, a former whaling town. A small pod of whales routinely visit the bay, and you can get close to them on a two-hour boat cruise.
Then it’s back to Ceduna, with time allowed for a plate of local oysters at the Ceduna Foreshore Hotel, before your flight back to Adelaide.