By Tui Benjamin
Are these the luckiest ever whale watchers? A group of tourists were left mesmerised after a pair of humpback whales decided to put on an incredible synchronised display just yards from their boat.
The whales were spotting leaping from the water in perfect tandem near North Head just outside Sydney Harbour.
Photographer Jonas Liebschner was stunned to capture the moment on camera – especially as it was the second time he had seen two whales breach in a fortnight.
Germany-born Jonas, who works for cruise company Whale Watching Sydney, said: “A double breach is very rare to see – so seeing one is always quite amazing.
“Usually I will only see a double breach once or twice in each migrating season, but they are very hard to capture on camera.
“I have been doing this for 10 years but I always seem to not be there when it happens. Whales somehow seem to know when you’re not ready.
“You can be glued to your camera for two hours and nothing happens, and then the moment you go to get a biscuit that is exactly when they will jump. You have to be concentrating all the time.
“The shots where they are pointing their flippers out of the water are definitely the best pictures of a double breach I have ever taken. They look perfectly synchronised.
“Getting the picture all depends on where you are and where the boat is at that moment in time. Even after 10 years I still see things I have not seen before.
“Sometimes they’ll jump once but sometimes it’ll be two or three breaches in a row and sometimes non-stop. You just can’t predict anything out there – anything is possible.”
Jonas first captured two whales pointing their flippers skywards in tandem off Manly Beach at the beginning of Australia’s northern whale migration season on May 14.
Exactly one week on May 21 he snapped the moment a boatload of tourists witnessed two humpbacks completely clearing the water just metres from their boat outside Sydney Harbour near North Head.
Humpback whales – who measure 15 metres long on average and weigh 45 tonnes – are currently passing past Sydney as they make their annual northern migration from their homelands of Antarctica to warmer waters near northern Queensland, Fiji and Tonga to give birth.
The migration begins in mid-May and the whales travel back past Sydney with their calves in October and November with the annual spectacle over by early December.
Jonas added: “What makes whales so special for me is the hunt for the perfect picture. They are so unpredictable, they can do anything at any time and getting the perfect shot of them is my motivation.
“It is quite amazing how they are able to say ‘three, two, one, go’ to each other underwater.
“I don’t know why they double breach, but there are lots of theories as to why whales breach.
“One theory is that they do it for communication, because whales have very good hearing and sound travels fast and far underwater. When there is a 45-tonne whale jumping out it makes a pretty big splash.
“Whales have very good eyesight so another theory is that they jump out to have a look at you and see what the boat is doing.
“Sometimes they come very close to the boat because they are very curious, and you can hear their breathing which is the most amazing thing because you realise how big their lungs are.”