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The fisherman and the whales

June 18, 2013
Peter Richards. Two whales in stealth mode came and checked out Peter as he fished in his boat last night

Peter Richards. Two whales in stealth mode came and checked out Peter as he fished in his boat last nigh

By Mic Smith

Imagine fishing under a small light on your boat miles out to sea, solitary and silent surrounded by complete blackness, then there’s two loud explosions like cannons.

‘Eerie’ is the best word my neighbour, Peter Richards, can think of to describe his first encounter of the 2013 season with humpback whales.

The Nobbys Beach local was fishing for Tragelin Jew fish about five nautical miles out on a piece of reef, the same as he’s been doing for 30 years.

“It was pitch black, then just out of the blue you hear this great noise of this huge breath,” Peter says.

“Two whales came out of the water. They blew all the air they had out, then took in these huge breaths.

“The noise was so loud. Not more than 20 metres away.

“It was just long enough for them to get a breath. 30 seconds and they were gone.”

He looked for them with his torch but they had disappeared as suddenly as they arrived.

“They weren’t breaching, they just put their heads out [spyhopped] to check me out.”

Peter might have jumped out of his skin when he heard the whales cannoning steamy air out of their blowholes, but he didn’t see them. The two humpbacks, on their way to the Great Barrier Reef with an estimated 14000 others, checked him out though.

Peter has been in the habit of fishing on his own since the Goldcoast Seaway was built in 86.

Fishing outside is easier for him to organise alone, and if he changes his mind about going he doesn’t feel obligated to go.

“Out there it’s a big responsibility with other people’s safety,” he says.

His wife Chris goes with him when he fishes inside the Gold Coast waterways occasionally, but he says he’d hate to put someone else in danger in the open ocean.

He normally fishes on full moons, so he can return across the Southport bar before the tide starts running out and the waves start to stand up.

Fishing for jewfish on the reef, he often sees whales appear hundreds of metres away in the moonlight. Watches them breach, surface and spout in the silvery moonlight.

Sometimes they look like they’re heading straight for his boat and it scares him though he knows he is safe.

(Peter’s story conjures up images of the “Life of Pi”. To read more about how ‘whales surprise fisherman’ click here to go to ABC Open.

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