When Kerry Lopez was just a little girl, she had an experience that would stay with her for the rest of her life.
The eight-year-old Kerry was walking along a New Zealand beach when she had a close encounter that would chart the course for the rest of her life. “I saw a beached whale, a big sperm whale that was beached,” she says. “I remember it so clearly. I was with my father… I was very emotional about the fact that it was beached, that it was dead. As a child, it really did affect me.
“When I went to school after that, I really wanted to study dissertations and know all about the killer whales and the humpbacks. I did all of my assignments on whales. It’s just the way the universe works, I guess — I sit back now and say, ‘how come I was that lucky?’”
Today, Kerry is Captain Kerry — the proud owner of Brisbane Whale Watching, and the only female captain to own and operate her own whale watching venture in the South Pacific rim (she fulfilled her life-long dream and obtained her whale watching permit in 1996). She spends most of her days aboard the Eye-Spy, cruising the pristine waters of Moreton Bay and experiencing more of those life-changing moments.
“I’ve had Migaloo, the white whale, alongside me twice,” Kerry remembers. “He is alabaster white. He’s just like a fairytale, really. He lights the ocean up. But I love watching the mothers and the calves, too — we’ve had mothers actually nudge their babies into the boat, and we’ve seen them up close in crystal clear waters.
“We’re in Moreton Bay Marine Park, so there are only two operators. You’re not fighting other boats to observe the whales, and it’s shallow. The whales are so trusting, and when they interact with you… it’s just something you never, ever get sick of. You never, ever tire of it at all. Every day’s very different.
“Some days you’ll see a massive bull [humpback whale]. They’ve got massive eyes, and they’ll come up and just look at you. They’ll turn over and look at you eye-to-eye. When that happens, it touches your soul.”
The whale watching season has just kicked off, and Kerry’s busiest months are ahead of her. Thanks to consistent increases in the whale population, she’s faced with a veritable embarrassment of riches. “In the period we call ‘the crossover’, in July and August, you’ll have pods that are crossing; you’ll see four or five pods going south, and three more pods going north. It really is like a whale highway.
“Come the end of August, we’ll see the newborn calves; calves that are only two or three days old, and they’ll stay in the Bay for four or five days. They have to put on enough blubber before their mums will take them down to the cold water, so they hang around. We’re very lucky in Moreton Bay.”
Kerry feels an intense connection with the whales that pass through Moreton Bay, particularly regulars like Mad Maggie (known for her missing dorsal fin); Winston (all black underneath his belly, an unusual trait for a southern hemisphere humpback); and Razorback, named after the six deep propeller wounds beneath his blowhole.
“I believe they know the vessel,” Kerry says, without a shadow of a doubt. “I really do believe they know the harmonics of the vessel, and they know my voice. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!”
Eye-Spy departed the Redcliffe Jetty last weekend for the official start of the 2014 Brisbane Whale Watching season. Kerry Lopez will be filing regular whale watching reports for bmag; for more info, head to brisbanewhalewatching.com.au.