"It felt like we were in a David Attenborough episode."
That’s how Margaret River tourism operator Sean Blocksidge has described the experience of using a helicopter to scare a shark away from a calving whale in Wilyabrup, near Gracetown.
Sean was up on a flight with his mate Brett Campany from Wild Blue Helicopters to take some aerial photos of the region yesterday, when they stumbled upon an incredible scene.
"As we flew by the Wilyabrup Cliffs I spotted what looked like a very, very big fish from that high up,” he said.
This big fish turned out to be a southern right whale and Sean said he thought it was trying to give birth because of how close it was to shore.
"I’d seen another whale doing the exact same thing in the exact same spot about a month earlier,” he said.
However, Sean said just as they flew over Brett spotted a 3-4m shark cruising along the beach heading straight for the calving whale.
"Brett just made a decision to drop the helicopter above the ocean and herd the shark back out to deeper water."
"I’m all for letting nature do its thing but it would have sucked for the whale to have gone through 12 months of gestation only to have its baby gobbled up on birth."
The plan worked, with the shark beating a swift retreat once the helicopter closed in, which Sean put down to Brett's expert piloting.
"Don’t underestimate the herding capability of an R44 – that shark spun around and swam off so fast it would have won Olympic gold in the 1500 metres," Sean quipped.
He said after they had scared the shark off Brett was mindful of not scaring the whale so they landed just above the beach so they could watch quietly from above as the whale gave birth.
"We could literally hear her [the whale] heaving and breathing in the surf and all the while we were just hoping the shark had stayed in deeper water.”
But, then things took another interesting turn with the arrival on the scene of some more ocean dwellers.
"While we debated the pros and cons of getting back up in the air a dozen or more dolphins arrived to encircle the calving whale and protect her.
Sean said after this they decided to let nature take its course and leave the dolphins to "manage the maternity ward for the night" while they headed back to Cowaramup for the sunset.
He described the experience as one of the best in a six-year career showcasing the Margaret River region to visitors
"It was just amazing to watch and it felt like we were in a David Attenborough episode."
"I gave up an office job six years ago [for this] and I haven’t had a single boring day at work in all this time but yesterday will go down as one of my best memories so far," he said.
Sean said the Margaret River region was an ideal whale watching location with more than 40,000 whales migrating up and down the coast every year.
"Some days we can see as many two dozen whales across the horizon – right here on our doorstep,” he said.
Sean said he had no problem with Wild Blue Helicopters flying over his property after a group of local residents said the helicopter joy flights were ruining the relaxed vibe of Cowaramup Bay.
"I’m stoked Brett is up there most days," he said.
"I live in Kilcarnup and I couldn’t be happier in the knowledge he’s the first to see smoke during the bushfire season and regularly flying over my local beach when the family is out swimming and surfing.
"He’s got a proven track record for spotting sharks and fires and he gets a big wave from me when he flies over our house."