9 June 2023

Whale of a tale: Broulee lensman hitches epic drone ride on humpback highway

| Zoe Cartwright
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humpback whales

Three whales make their way past Broulee Island for the 2023 migration. Photo: Chris Kerr (@te_aratika).

It’s the start of the busy season on the ”humpback highway” off the coast of NSW – but from the shore, it’s hard to see much more than the occasional spurt of air.

If you’d like to see more than a quick glimpse of an elusive humpback before it disappears beneath the waves, Broulee photographer Chris Kerr has put in the hard yards for you.

Drones felt like a natural extension for Chris, a trainee pilot with a passion for photography.

While he usually hones his skills filming foil riders, Chris aspired to capture some of the region’s biggest visitors on their annual pilgrimage.

READ ALSO ‘Not one of those fishing stories’ – orca spotted on Far South Coast

He spent two weeks camping out at Burrewarra Point with his four daughters, braving chilly mornings in the hope of capturing his dream shot – but his hopes were dashed.

“You need conditions to be just right,” Chris said.

“They need to be close enough that I can still see the drone, and you need a very still day to see them. If there are any waves, you’re not going to see them at all.

“And they don’t play around as much when they go north, they just surface, you see a bubble, and they dive back down.

“We spent some very cold mornings out on the point. The girls are all under 10 and they took turns keeping me company.

“We spotted a couple of whales, but couldn’t catch them.”

On a whim, Chris popped down to South Broulee one day on his lunch break and got an unexpected reward.

Two whales, one with a calf in tow, were making their way along the coast off Broulee Island.

“I was just about to pack up when I saw a glimpse of something and thought OK, I’ll send the drone out and have a look,” Chris said.

“I was very surprised to see them, they don’t normally come in that close.

“The footage exceeds my expectations and probably my skills as well, but it was just because I kept looking.”

For anyone else hoping to spot whales, their annual migration past the coast continues until November.

Chris says the exceptionally clear water quality, as well as plentiful food sources this year, means your chances of a sighting are better than usual.

He wonders whether it might be a legacy of the Black Summer bushfires.

“I do foiling and I’ve never seen so many fish and the water so clear,” he said.

“The water quality especially is just phenomenal at the moment – I’m not a scientist, but we had the bushfires three years ago and a lot of that washed down through the rivers, and I think it’s just cleared out now, it’s really been unbelievable.”

To see more of Chris’s footage of the whale migration, head to his Instagram page: @te_aratika.

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