Peter’s 300sqkm Office
From water-skiing ‘fish boy’ to award-winning whale watching guide, the multi-talented skipper of Hervey Bay’s Blue Dolphin, Peter Lynch, has designed a water-borne career to delight any escapist.
His current work conditions consist of stewarding a sleek catamaran through the gin-clear waters of the Great Sandy Strait to watch whales loll about in mid-migration languor. His 300sqkm office is bounded by a vast blue sky, shimmering stretches of rich estuarine waters and the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island. His work colleagues love him; some come to play for hours, hitching a ride on the bow wave or blowing copious amounts of water over the boat as they sidle up to see what’s what.
His clients love him too. Some are still talking about the memorable day a very social Humpback decided to spend some extended quality time with the Blue Dolphin’s amazed visitors.
“Hervey Bay pretty much perfect – it’s a unique stopover or respite off the migration highway, Peter says, “the bay is protected by winds, enjoys better than average weather and has become a beautiful meeting point for humans and whales.
“They are more relaxed and curious in these waters, it’s obviously the whale’s choice to be here.”
Peter views his enviable day job as the natural progression of a decade and a half of intense work with whales and dolphins at Queensland’s famed Sea World.
As a teenager he turned up as a water-skiing acrobat at the huge marine park before securing the job of ‘fish boy’. This involved cleaning up after seals (extremely messy eaters) and sorting huge quantities of tucker straight from the trawlers for Sea World’s star attractions.
After volunteering at the dolphin department, he became the assistant to a trainer and was given his own dolphin to train. Eventually, he became the supervisor for four staff members, two False Killer Whales and six dolphins.
“After 14 years as a trainer, you know they have very distinctive personalities, Peter says.
“Dolphins are like Labradors, you can work with a dolphin because they are easy-going. False Killer Whales are much smarter, they work with you when they want to, as if to say ‘Yes, but what’s in it for me?”
In the mid-80s, Peter and his colleagues developed the ‘Rocket Ride’ with Sea World’s False Killer Whale matriarch Squirt, in which a trainer stands on the nose of the breaching whale and propelled several metres in the air.
“Squirt had her preferences - some days she would indicate ‘Nah, I’m not working with you today’. One time she bent and pushed every gate open and mobbed all the dolphins and false killer whales together. It took hours to sort out.”
In the wild, Hervey Bay’s bottle-nosed dolphins and their seasonal visitors, migrating Humpbacks play well together, Peter has observed.
“It great to be able to understand subtle behaviour, pick up individual markings, and know more about their preferences.
“Dolphins love to bow ride on boats, they developed this from bow-riding whales. I can pick up a sharp head movement, a ‘head jam’, as territorial; it means “I’m here, this is my bow ride”.
Although is loves sun-soaked days at his 300skqm ‘office’, he believes there is a high education and conservation value of well-run marine parks.
“If we didn’t have marine parks like Sea World or Flipper on television, no one would care about them and they’d still be occupying cans of tuna, “ Peter says.
With the help of Sea World, he was able to attain commercial diving and skipper licences to assist with research and rescue efforts.
He was part of a crew who flew to Vanuatu to successfully rescue 36 spinner dolphins stuck in a lagoon and two Humpbacks which had attracted a 5000-strong crowd on the Sunshine Coast.
“Humpbacks do fascinate people, there is no doubt. People love the opportunity to see and hear them up close,” Peter says.
“On the Blue Dolphin, we’re so close you can smell them too. Their breathe is understandably fishy,” Peter says.
It’s not uncommon for fine particles of whale snot to waft over the boat after a spout of blown water descends but that’s the price paid for close contact with the curious cetaceans.
“Honestly people love it! Some people see whale encounters as life-changing.”
Peter is passionate about being able to impart how extraordinary the marine creatures are, in captivity and in the wild.
“I consider myself very lucky to have worked in a marine park and to now be able to show them being themselves in the wild. Yes, it is a dream job and, yes, ‘what an office’ to do it in,” he says.