IT'S whale season, baby!
Thousands of humpback calves are cruising down the east coast with their mothers, feeding and muscling up and learning one of the world's longest migration patterns.
Veteran whale watching skipper and director of Imagine Cruises Port Stephens Frank Future said it had already been a bumper season, one of the best in nearly three decades at the helm.
He estimated up to 4000 pairs of humpback whale calves and mothers were making the journey along the Hunter coastline as they moved towards Antarctica.
"My favourite month is October, out of the whole year, because of the baby whales," Mr Future told the Newcastle Herald.
"There's nothing more spectacular than seeing a 50-tonne whale clear the water, and the splash is just phenomenal.
"There's a lot of beautiful things in nature but when it comes to a spectacle, there's nothing quite like a whale."
Floating in the pristine turquoise waters off the point of the Port Stephens lighthouse and watching whales splash about on a clear and sunny day, Mr Future said he felt "fantastic" and proud of their progress.
He's passionate about the conservation of marine life, and said the bounceback of the humpback population after whaling times was one of nature's good news stories.
It's been an especially good season for spotting them - this time last year the ocean was being flooded with brackish fresh water after a rainy period.
"The whales don't really like that because the water is really murky, they can't see, and they tend to travel out a little bit further," Mr Future said.
"The weather this year has been fantastic, the sea has been really quite clear so the whales have been travelling in lovely and close."
The baby whales - just a cute little two tonnes at birth - have been making a splash as they guzzle about 300 litres of their mum's milk every day.
"The babies are quite active - not mum, she's exhausted," Mr Future said.
The calves work hard breaching and tail slapping to turn all that milk into muscle.
"When they hit the Southern Ocean, they're getting hit by cold water, 20-metre seas and 60 knot winds," Mr Future said.
"They've got to build up strength ... this is a big swim for the baby whale."
It's not uncommon to see a group of mothers and calves travelling together for companionship at this time of year.
Pregnant humpbacks are known to bring in a "midwife" or "escort" to protect them from predators during birth, and they may travel together afterwards.
The male humpback whales hitch a ride south on the East Australian Current, which flows past Port Stephens further offshore, but the mothers and their calves take the trip steady and closer to the coast.
"Calves may only get one or two trips with mum so they've got to remember the headlands, the islands, places that they can shelter in the event of a big storm," Mr Future said.
It also helps keep them safe from orcas patrolling for vulnerable whale calves further out to sea.
The humpback whales are migrating south for the summer before making the 2500 nautical mile journey north for the winter.