Whale photo competition winners announced

Ash McMurrich’s winning photo taken on a family whale watching trip with Jetty Dive Coffs Harbour in the Solitary Islands area.

A CLOSE-UP photograph of a female humpback whale has won Coffs Harbour father Ash McMurrich first place in the Gowings Whale Trust 2022 Whale Watching photo competition.

Judges commenting on Ash’s photos said, “The image feels intimate, clearly conveying the gentle nature and curiosity of the whale.”

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It was taken on a family whale watching trip with Jetty Dive Coffs Harbour in the Solitary Islands area.
“We were so lucky that day,” Ash told News Of The Area.

“The whale ‘spy-hopped’ the boat.

“Spy-hopping is when they poke one eye out of the water and check you out.

“She kept coming up to look at us, each time drawing a little closer, right up to the boat; it was amazing.”

Ash snapped his winning shot, then gave his camera over to his three children, Ava (twelve), Lily (almost ten) and Austin (seven), whose photo went on to win the Junior section.

They took it in turns to photograph the curious whale as she ‘mugged’ the boat.

“Mugging is when the whale interacts closely with whale watchers, over an extended period,” explained Ash.

“And she looked like she was enjoying interacting with us,” said Ash.

“’We could hear her breathing, through her blowhole.

“The kids were so excited.

“After they took a few shots each they put the camera down to watch and really be in the moment.”

The kids said they just loved the day and were happy to have seen some whales; having their photos seen by other people made them proud and they couldn’t wait to show/tell people at school.

Ash took up photography in 2012 on returning from deployment to Afghanistan and has become an avid photographer since moving to Coffs in 2018.

Now medically retired from the Australian Army after 26 years’ service, being increasingly drawn to the water, he took up scuba diving with Jetty Dive in Coffs Harbour.

“Through them I learned the ins and outs of whale watching and about the migration of these beauties,” he said .

“I asked to assist on the boat one day to get closer to what I had studied, which they allowed, and I was able to take some images whilst out there.”

Ash has continued volunteering with Jetty Dive to learn more.

“It helps me get out and about as I left the Army medically last year with many injuries, one of which was PTSD.
“I’ll forever be in Jetty Dive’s debt for taking me on.

“The first time I saw a whale breach in the distance was amazing, as they positioned closer within their allowable distances, we saw the spray from a few and then the tails (Flukes) and heard the noise of them breaching.

“Once we were still for some time, and a whale came up close to us; it’s thought that she was looking at the boat being very inquisitive as they are at times.”

Ash said it was absolutely amazing to be so close to something so enormous and still so gentle and beautiful.

The McMurrich family is keenly into whales and ocean environments.

“All three kids ask me to jump into the water at the marina when we go for walks, and they see any rubbish etc, as they hate it when pollution occurs and feel for the sea life.”

Ava wants to learn scuba now she’s old enough and Lily says she wants to be a marine biologist when she’s older. “Until then I’ll just learn as much as I can from you, Dad,” she says.

Second Prize in the photo competition for Coffs went to Kathy Brown.

Judges commented, “Kathy’s shot shows great artistry.

“The sea looks soft and inviting, in gentle shades of blue, contrasting with the bright energy of the whale breaching.

“The clarity of the white flipper sets a carefree, jubilant tone to the image, balanced by the sea bird in the sky.

“A gorgeous shot.”

Kathy is an avid wildlife photographer and passionate environmentalist.

“It is difficult to come so close to humpback whales without being moved,” she said.


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