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With 25,000 whales going by, you're bound to see a few

With 25,000 whales going by, you're bound to see a few

AS the didgeridoo sounds and Aboriginal stories are told, the search for the giants of the seas off Moreton Island becomes almost a spiritual experience.

With the vast blue expanse of ocean ahead, we are joined by an Aboriginal elder and the Quandamooka people for the welcoming of the whales aboard the Tangalooma Jet.

With more than 25,000 of these gentle giants travelling through each season, our chances of spotting a few are pretty great.

And it's not long before we see the white spray above the water to signal they are amongst us.

Tangalooma Island Resort promises an unforgettable experience to its clientele of Australian and overseas visitors.

And on the weekend, they delivered with picture perfect weather - from the sunshine-filled whale cruise to the spectacular sunset leading to dolphin feeding.

The 'yura yalingbila' or 'welcome whales' ceremony is interrupted only by the exclamation of overseas tourists as they see more and more evidence of the whales around them.

Tangalooma Island Resort offers whale watching and dolphin feeding.
Tangalooma Island Resort offers whale watching and dolphin feeding.

The few first sightings are in the distance, hundreds of metres away.

Just the sight of these massive beasts coming to the surface is enough to generate exclamations of delight from those on board.

When two smaller whales come up the side of the boat, the atmosphere is intensified 1000-fold as tourists scramble to get their shot on everything from iPhones to expensive video cameras.

Being at the very front of the boat, we were lucky to see the whites of the whales' bellies as they began to surface.

Whales emerge near the boat.
Whales emerge near the boat. Mark Furler

As they broke through the water, with white sprays above them, the moment was simply magical.

In between the excitement, the Aboriginal singing and didgeridoo play almost called on the next whale encounter.

With its oversized windows and large viewing platforms - together with a no overcrowding booking policy - the Tangalooma Jet provided a smooth journey to and from Moreton Island.

The cruise lasted about three hours which provided plenty of time to see whales before we returned the resort to prepare for the night's dolphin feeding session.

Dolphin encounter at Tangalooma

The chance to feed a dolphin on Brisbane's doorstep seems a little surreal.

The experience is made all the more mystical by Aboriginal dancing in front of a beachside fire, dwarfed only by the richest of red sunsets.

'Balka booangan' or 'coming of the dolphins is celebrated with stories and traditional dance.

Tourists watch in wonder as a smoking ceremony sees locals Aborigines burning various native plants to cleanse the area and ward off bad spirits.

Guests are invited to walk through the smoke before the real excitement of the evening, the feeding of dolphins is underway.

Staff of the resort take enthusiastic children and their children through safety and hygiene protocols for the protection of the dolphins.

We are advised to wash off any sunscreen from our legs and wash our hands in a special solution before picking up a small fish to offer up to the dolphin.

Resort staff take guests in one or twos, ensuring that the dolphin is not touched but just offered food.

The magic is over in a moment, though a frisky young dolphin created quite a splash for one guest in front of us.

As we leave the dolphin feeding to board the launch to return to Brisbane, we capture one last glimpse of a juvenile dolphin twisting and spinning in the shallow, clear water.

The story of Tangalooma's dolphin program

The story of Tangalooma's dolphins dates back to the 1970s when the Osborne family first visited the resort as guests, before buying it.

Lights had been recently installed on the jet, attracting bait fish for the dolphins.

Guests fishing on the jetty started to throw their rejects and bait to the dolphin named Beauty who began to accept the food offerings.

She even started to raise her eyes above the water and look out for guests.

The Osbornes soon arranged for better quality fish to be left on the jetty each night for guests to give to the dolphins.

During late 1990 Beauty arrived with a new baby that they named Tinkerbell, and Beauty became a very regular visitor during 1991.

Staff began trying to hand feed Beauty in 1992.

By the end of the year, there were six dolphins being fed regularly.

Proper protocols for feeding were put in place and resort guests also were allowed to feed.

Since then, a new jetty and grandstand, a new dolphin education centre and an extensive Marine Education Program which provides free programs to all South East Queensland Schools, has been established.

Beauty's three children Bobo, Tinkerbell and Shadow; Tinkerbell's three children, Tangles, Storm and Phoenix, and

Shadow's two children Silhouette and Zephyr have all been fed.

Fly over Tangalooma and Moreton Island via helicopter.   Photo Contributed
Fly over Tangalooma and Moreton Island via helicopter. Photo Contributed Contributed

Moreton Island's rich history

Moreton Island has a rich history dating back to the native Aboriginals and early European settlement.

Moorgumpin meaning 'place of sandhills' is the Aboriginal name for Moreton Island and Tangalooma means 'where fishes meet'.

The Indigenous people of Moorgumpin are known as the Ngugi.

Moorgumpin lies within the area referred to as Quandamooka.

Quandamooka is commonly defined as the Moreton Bay region.

The Ngugi people lived permanently on the Island, maintaining a marine-based lifestyle for over 2000 years.

Fish, shellfish, dugong, turtle and crustaceans formed a major portion of their diet, which was supplemented by the ungwall fern (Blechnum indicum), midyim berries (Austromyrtus dulcis), pandanus and honey.

Explore Moreton Island by dune buggy. Photo Contributed
Explore Moreton Island by dune buggy. Photo Contributed Contributed

The friendship between the Ngugi descendants and the operators of the Tangalooma resort are well apparent as their traditions are honoured.

On the island, up to 330 cultural sites have been recorded and include shell and bone scatters, large middens and a stone quarry.

It was Captain James Cook who named the island 'Morton Island in 1770 after the Scottish Earl of Morton.

It was later misspelled as 'Moreton Bay' in translations from his journals.

But it wasn't until 1823 that the first 'white visitors' arrived on Moreton Island.

The last of the Ngugi people were forced to relocate to Stradbroke Island in 1850, where their descendants still live today.

The island's history also includes the largest land-based whaling station in the southern hemisphere, established in 1950.

The first two humpback whales were harpooned in June 1952 near Cape Moreton.

One of the magic sunsets at Moreton Island.
One of the magic sunsets at Moreton Island.

By October, the Station had killed and processed the yearly quota of 600 whales, with the season lasting only 124 days.

One whale could yield more than 8000 kilograms of oil, the most valuable resource, which was used to make margarine, glycerine, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

By 1961 the whales were becoming scarce and light planes were employed to spot the whales from the air.

In August 1962, only 68 whales had been caught and the whaling station closed.

In the 10 years of operation 6,277 humpback whales and one blue whale were killed and processed.

In 1965 humpback whales were placed on the Protected Species list.

Now whales are conservatively worth to the tourism industry more than twice what it generated from whaling.

Tangalooma Island Resort offers whale watching and dolphin feeding.
Tangalooma Island Resort offers whale watching and dolphin feeding.

So what does it cost?

Tangalooma's Dolphin Adventure Tour with Whale Watching runs from June 1 to October 16 each year. Prices are $180 for adults and $135 for children aged three to 14 years.

A light lunch is served on the boat during the whale watching cruise.

Accommodation packages are also available at Tangalooma Island Resort.

Bookings and inquiries can be made on 1300 652 250 or via

The writer was a guest of resort for the day.