Fisherman's incredible 'once in a lifetime' encounter in Aussie waters

Tim Whybrow said it's 'pretty uncommon' to be up close and personal with a whale in this type of waterway.

Left: Infant humpback whale swimming and breeching next to boast in Mooloolaba, Queensland. Right: Fisherman Tim Whybrow holding large fish on boat after catching it
Fisherman Tim Whybrow was delighted to have seen an infant humpback whale swim beside his boat at Mooloolaba, Queensland last week. Source: Tim Whybrow/Tascast Fishing

A fisherman has recalled his incredible "once in a lifetime" encounter with a "curious" humpback whale, which came within metres from his boat in Aussie waters last week.

As whales migrate up the east coast of the country, there have been ample sightings by thrilled locals hoping to catch a glimpse, but nothing quite as unexpected as this.

Tim Whybrow, who recently moved from Tasmania to Mooloolaba, Queensland was heading out to sea with a couple of mates on a boat when some splashing ahead got their eye. They were still in shallow water in the barway, about four metres deep, Whybrow said.

"It's pretty uncommon to see whales in barways and spits where there's plenty of marine traffic moving in and out daily," he told Yahoo News Australia on Monday. So you can imagine their shock when they saw a "big tail flopping" in the water before it "popped up and breached" right beside them.

"It swam towards us, then swam underneath the boat and popped up to say g'day. Whales are very curious. It was amazing," he said.

"Over the last couple of years, I've spent well over 800 hours fishing on the water and haven't encountered something this bizarre. To be honest, my adrenaline was absolutely pumping through my veins".

Australian national guidelines state "vessels must not approach closer than 300m to any whale or dolphin". Boaters are also required to slow down to six knots or below in areas where whales are present. So naturally, Whybrow's encounter struck a nerve with some critics who feared he'd put the animal at risk of being injured or potentially killed.

However, the 31-year-old, who was at the wheel of the boat, said their close encounter was "unavoidable" due to their unique position in the barway. "It's a sheer coincidence and a real big handful of luck," he said.

"When you're in a barway, you can't sit still. You've got to keep going with the flow of traffic. We had a boat behind us and a boat in front of us," he explained.

"We just stuck in our lane heading out on the right-hand side. It's quite funny because there aren't really legalities around whales in barways because you just don't see it".

Humpback whale seen breaching next to boat in Mooloolaba, Queensland.
The fisherman said the whale approached their boat before swimming under it and popping up on the other side. Source: Tim Whybrow/Tascast Fishing

Trying to navigate the unique situation, Whybrow, who shares fishing content online as Tascast Fishing, confirmed he flicked the vessel into neutral which stopped the propellers from spinning, in fear of hurting the infant whale.

"We're grateful it wasn't hurt and found its way back out to sea," he said saying his encounter is a "fantastic educational lesson for everyone to try to avoid whales and proximity where possible".

"Although this encounter was unavoidable given the circumstances and position of my vessel in the barway, it's a good reminder for people not to chase after whales and to ensure your engine is turned off within a 300m proximity, or your vessel is out of gear in neutral, as per law, you can then motor away under 6 knots from the location of the whale," he said.

Boat strikes are one of the main threats to whales globally, CEO of Australian Marine Conservation Society Darren Kindleysides told Yahoo. Damage to the whale can depend on the size and speed of the vessel — “a bit like a car crash,” Mr Kindleysides said.

"It can be lethal but it can also cause injuries that can limit its ability to migrate," he said.

"It’s crucially important we protect them, that’s why we have guidelines to maintain safe distances between boats and whales on the water."

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.