By Tui Benjamin
This lucky boatload of tourists enjoyed a STARING CONTEST with a huge humpback whale after it breached just centimetres from their boat – to look them straight in the eye.
Snapper Jonas Liebschner captured the incredible moment the gobsmacked whale watchers came eye to eye with the mammoth 45-tonne mammal just outside Sydney Harbour, Australia.
Jonas said the inquisitive young humpback was so eager to make eyes at the holidaymakers it circled the Whale Watching Sydney vessel for two and a half hours, frequently popping its head out of the water in what is known as a ‘mugging’.
The 31-year-old’s incredible photographs capture the excitement on the faces of the sightseers – who could not believe their eyes to be within touching distance of the migrating 15-metre animal.
German-born Jonas, who now lives in Sydney, said: “This was basically the best whale watching these tourists could have hoped for.
“Everyone loves to see humpbacks jumping out of the water, but to have a whale that close to the boat and there the whole time is pretty special.
“It was in touching distance of the people on the boat, right next to them, and was looking straight at them.
“As soon as we found this whale it began swimming round the boat and stayed close to us for the next two and a half hours – instantly coming up to the boat and checking everyone out.
“Boats have to stay 100 metres away from the whales so if they come close and are swimming around and under the boat you can’t move or go anywhere – we call it a ‘mugging’.
“This one was doing circles around us and putting its head out of the water to look straight at the tourists, which is known as a ‘spy hop’.
“When whales lift their heads out of the water like that, it very much is so they can have a look at us.”
German-born Jonas, who now lives in Sydney and has been photographing whales for 10 years, works for boat company Whale Watching Sydney.
He took the amazing photographs in the open ocean about 6.5km east of Sydney Harbour during a pleasure cruise on August 5.
Humpback whales – who measure 15 metres long on average and weigh around 45 tonnes – are currently passing past Sydney as they make their annual northern migration from Antarctica to warmer waters near northern Queensland, Fiji and Tonga to give birth.
The northern 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.
This whale was one of the first to be travelling back south past Sydney after already making the migration north, which Jonas said explained why it was in no rush to leave.
He also used a GoPro waterproof camera mounted onto a pole to obtain amazing underwater images of the huge animal swimming close to the boat.
The 31-year-old said: “Whale season is half way through, so we are now seeing the last whales going north at the same time as the first whales are coming back south.
“When the whales come back they are usually quite relaxed, so they can be very curious.
“Humpbacks generally are a fairly curious species and this one certainly wasn’t in a rush to go anywhere.
“I was pretty happy with how the photos turned out. A mugging keeps you on your toes as a photographer, because you’re never sure where the whale is going to come up.”