21.1 C
New York
Saturday, April 1, 2023

Whale watching in Australia: when and the place to go

*This text could comprise affiliate hyperlinks. We obtain a small fee at no further price to you. In the event you get pleasure from our content material and wish to assist Journey For Wildlife, please go to our store Really Wild.

You scan the water excitedly, attempting to guess the place the leviathan will floor. Immediately, a burst of vapor explodes from the clear blue water a stone’s throw from the boat. You end up eye to eye with one of many largest animals that ever existed on planet Earth.

The thought of visiting Australia could conjure pictures of the Nice Barrier Reef, The Outback, Uluru, kangaroos, and the Sydney Opera home. However the nation boasts one other world-class attraction that you could be not have even been conscious of: the unbelievable whale migration that happens on each coasts of Australia. Whale watching in Australia is among the many most dependable, thrilling, and well-managed on the planet. 

Map of whale watching in Australia hotspots

Whale watching in Australia 

Australia is a cetacean hotspot. Cetaceans are the order of marine mammals that embrace whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Of the 90 or so species worldwide, half of them reside in or migrate alongside the waters of Australia (you’ll be able to see a listing of whale species in Australia at finish of this publish).

The huge island continent boasts all kinds of coastal habitats that present vital nurseries, in addition to some newly-discovered feeding grounds, for a lot of whale species. There are such a lot of alternatives for whale watching in Australia, whether or not from a ship, from the air, and even from land. Some vantage factors have a viewing platform constructed only for whale watching! Immediately, Australian waters present an necessary sanctuary for these protected species within the southern hemisphere.

whale bobtailing

Southern proper whale lobtailing

*This publish is sponsored by Australian Wildlife Journeys*

From industrial whaling to whale watching in Australia: a fast historical past

Within the late 1700’s when Europe and North America’s lamps and machines thirsted for whale oil, it’s no shock that Australia’s plentiful whale populations grew to become a goal. Wealthy businessmen arrange store and whaling grew to become the Australian colony’s first main business.

A number of species, together with humpbacks and southern proper whales, had been hunted for his or her oil, blubber, bones, and the massive baleen plates of their mouths. On the peak of the whaling business, between 1820 and 1850, round 13 hundred males plied Australian waters annually on the hunt for whales (supply). However within the 1850’s, as petroleum began to exchange whale oil and a gold rush lured sailors away, the business started to say no.

Nonetheless, the business persevered properly into the mid 1900’s. New applied sciences made whalers so environment friendly at discovering and killing their quarry that populations started to crash. Southern proper whales had been closely persecuted as a result of they yielded probably the most blubber and oil, had the longest baleen plates, calved near shore, moved slowly, and floated after being killed, making them the “proper” whale to hunt. Within the 1930’s southern proper whales acquired official safety, however their numbers have been gradual to recuperate and they’re nonetheless federally listed as endangered to this present day.

humpback spy hopping close to boat

Humpback spy hopping ©Pacific Whale Basis Eco-Adventures Australia

Fortunately, the information has been a lot better for humpbacks. They suffered heavy losses as properly, and the japanese inhabitants was nearing extinction by the 1950’s. However since humpback whaling ended within the 1960’s, their numbers have miraculously recovered. Now they’re off the endangered listing and seem to have returned to pre-whaling ranges. A current examine confirmed that their exponential development fee of 10.9% per yr is exhibiting no indicators of slowing down! Now there are over 50,000 humpbacks leaping for pleasure in Australian waters.

Within the 1950’s, whale watching in Australia was born. And for the reason that official ban on whaling in 1978, each the variety of whales and the variety of whale watchers have steadily elevated. Ultimately rely in 2008, greater than 1.5 million individuals had been watching whales in Australia yearly.

Immediately, whale watchers not solely get pleasure from a life-changing expertise however contribute to the conservation of species by way of citizen science tasks. Whale watching journeys are among the prime wildlife excursions in Australia

Humpback whale migration in Australia 

Most populations of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) undertake seasonal migration, spending the winter in low-latitude breeding grounds (tropical and sub-tropical) and the summer time in high-latitude feeding grounds (arctic and antarctic).

Humpback whale migration map Australia

Humpback whale migration map Australia

Yearly, 1000’s of humpbacks make the journey from antarctic feeding grounds to the calm, heat waters of Australia to mate and calve (give start). One inhabitants strikes up the east coast and one other up the west coast, whereas some merely follow the southern coast.

Within the japanese inhabitants, humpback whales arrive off the coast of Melbourne in April, turning east between Tasmania and the mainland after which hook northward up the coast of New South Wales towards the Nice Barrier Reef. 

Within the west, humpbacks begin to seem across the southwest coast of Western Australia in late Could. They rapidly make their approach northward to calving grounds extending from Shark Bay (a 9h drive north of Perth) to the coast of Kimberley. 

After a few months and with calves in tow, humpbacks begin a slower journey again south alongside each coasts. It is a nice time to see these new households near the shore whereas they relaxation, play, and socialize.

The japanese inhabitants takes a barely totally different route than after they arrived and often head south alongside the east coast of Tasmania or peel off towards New Zealand throughout the Tasman Sea.

Southern proper whale migration in Australia

Southern proper whales (Eubalaena australis) observe the same path up from antarctic waters a bit of later within the yr. However as a substitute of heading up the east or west coasts, they spend winter on the southern shores of Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia.

Proper whales are simple to inform other than humpbacks as they’re bigger and darker, have quick paddle-like pectoral fins, (humpbacks have lengthy wing-like flippers), have white bumpy patches across the head known as callosities,  and are the one species of huge whale that doesn’t have a dorsal fin.

southern right whale blow

The blow of a southern proper whale is recognizable by its V form

It is usually throughout this time, between June and October, that southern proper whales are seen in South Africa and Argentina. 

Feminine southern proper whales will spend as much as 4 months in these areas (known as whale nurseries) with their new child calves. About 5% of southern proper whale calves are born white, with their shade turning pinkish-grey over time. 

Greatest time of yr to go whale watching in Australia

To get probably the most out of your whale-watching journey in Australia you need to plan to reach throughout migration. When you can most likely see a couple of whales out of season, it’s in the course of the migration that you just’ll catch the largest whale spectacle. As a rule of thumb, July to November is when probably the most whales are current in Australian waters, however take a look at among the particular websites under to get the timing proper for every.

You don’t wish to arrive at your whale-watching vacation spot and discover out that the whales simply left! 

The place to go for the most effective whale watching in Australia

We’re not going to cowl each place you’ll be able to go whale watching in Australia, (there are a LOT) however listed here are a couple of of the most effective whale-watching places the place you’re virtually assured to have an incredible present. 

Whale watching in Hervey Bay, Queensland

In 2019, Hervey Bay, on Australia’s east coast, was accredited because the world’s first whale heritage website and it is called the Whale Watching Capital of Australia. To qualify, a Whale Heritage Website should guarantee the very best commonplace in respectful human-wildlife interactions, in addition to present engagement with marine life by way of schooling, science, artwork, music, and different cultural heritage occasions. 

Each July/August, the month-long Hervey Bay Whale Pageant  celebrates the arrival of the whales. The entire city and guests from throughout the globe get collectively to rejoice the whales and promote their conservation. 

whale watching boat by two humpback whales

Ocean Defender and a few pleasant whales © Pacific Whale Basis Eco-Adventures Australia

Between July and November, greater than 25,000 Humpback whales journey the “humpback freeway” down the east coast of Australia to their feeding grounds in Antarctica. Hervey Bay is the primary cease for this southerly migration. Annually greater than 8,000 people use these calm, protected waters to relaxation, socialize, and nurse their new child calves earlier than persevering with south. As a result of prevalence of nursing moms, females outnumber males three to at least one within the bay. 

The primary group to reach, often from mid-July to the tip of August, are younger whales and mature females who’re both resting or newly pregnant. Mature lactating females with new child calves arrive from August to September. Grownup males arrive someplace in between however could loop round to totally different places as they seek for females to mate with. The well-known white humpback whale known as Migaloo, can also be often sighted within the area!

Pacific Whale Basis Eco-Adventures Australia has been researching humpback whales in Harvey Bay for the previous 30 years. You possibly can be part of them on the Final Hervey Bay Whale Watching journeys to see and be taught in regards to the migrating whales. 

Andrew Ellis on the Ocean Defender boat

Andrew Ellis, director of Pacific Whale Basis © Pacific Whale Basis Eco-Adventures Australia

“Whales have modified my life and I’m very a lot about embracing conservation and instructing others in regards to the marine setting.” Andrew Ellis, Director of Pacific Whale Basis Eco-Adventures Australia

The income from these journeys are used for scientific analysis, ocean conservation packages, and operating marine education schemes for teenagers. It is a nice alternative so that you can contribute to scientific analysis and study whale ecology and habits, see whale mothers and calves socialize, and even take heed to their songs with assistance from hydrophones.  

woman taking photo of humpback whale

Up shut with humpbacks © Pacific Whale Basis Eco-Adventures Australia

How will you contribute to their analysis? Pacific Whale Basis runs photograph ID packages that goal to review whale longevity and habits. With over 6,900 particular person humpback ID’s, their photograph catalog is among the largest on the earth. Humpback whales are recognized by the sample on their tails. The pigments behind the tail (or “fluke”) and its trailing edges are distinctive to every whale. When you’ve got images of humpback tails that had been taken at Hervey Bay, you’ll be able to donate them right here

whale tail by a whale-watching boat

Whale watching in Hervey Bay © Pacific Whale Basis Eco-Adventures Australia

Throughout your whale-watching boat tour, you can even study whale conservation and the way local weather change will have an effect on humpback migration and the well being of our oceans. Maybe probably the most fascinating factor you’ll get to study is whale songs. Whale songs weren’t found till 1968 solely very just lately have researchers began to grasp what they’re all about. With assistance from hydrophones, you’ll be capable of hear whales even when they’re far-off and you may’t see them. 

“…a singing whale may be picked up kilometers away, relying on the environmental circumstances.” Dr. Barry McGovern

The small vessels utilized by the Pacific Whale Basis (max of 40 individuals) are known as floating lecture rooms with researchers, marine biologists, guides, and guests all sharing the identical expertise. 

whale-watching boat on clear water

Your small whale-watching boat with Pacific Whale Basis Eco-Adventures Australia © Pacific Whale Basis Eco-Adventures Australia

Different cetaceans may be seen within the space, together with the Australian humpback dolphin, false killer whales, minke whales, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, and elevated sightings of southern proper whales. One Pacific Whale Basis challenge is learning dolphin well being and inhabitants standing in Hervey Bay. 

dolphin leaping out of the water

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin © Pacific Whale Basis Eco-Adventures Australia

Whale watching at Fowlers Bay, South Australia

For these of you who wish to expertise a multi-day whale watching voyage, Australian Coastal Safaris runs a 4-day journey  in South Australia that features a go to to Fowlers Bay. The Eyre Peninsula Winter Whale Watching and Wildlife Encounters tour is the right strategy to get to know the marine and terrestrial wildlife of the Eyre Peninsula.

With a surprising backdrop of the rugged cliffs of Level Fowler, you’ll be able to get pleasure from a leisurely whale-watching cruise to see southern proper whales and humpback whales as they journey by way of the bay.

sea cliffs with orange sunset light

The cliffs at Eyre Peninsula © Australian Coastal Safaris/Fran Solly

As much as 80 whales have been noticed on the bay, making this bay an excellent place to look at whales whereas they’re resting with their younger and socializing with different whales. Your boat can even have a hydrophone, so that you’ll be handled to the enchanting songs of the humpbacks.

This journey is ideal if you wish to mix a whale-watching journey with a go to to the Australian sea lions of Level Labatt and the enduring wombats and koalas that decision the central southern coast house.

Australian sea lion portrait on a beach

Australian sea lions stress-free on the seashore in South Australia

Whale watching in Bremer Bay, Western Australia

The rugged south coast of south Western Australia between Esperance and Flinders Bay gives shelter for western populations of southern proper whales in winter. That is additionally a transit level for humpbacks which might be making their approach by way of right here on their annual migration. Beaked whales are additionally regulars of this extremely various space. 

Issues get extra thrilling when killer whales, who’ve taken a liking to the Bremer Canyon, reap the benefits of this whale parade and hunt near shore.

Orca watching at Bremer Bay

Simply 1.5 hours off the coast of Bremer Bay, Bremer Canyon has grow to be a favourite hang-out for a bunch of greater than 150 orcas. Each January to April they return to this underwater canyon the place they’ve grow to be a daily sight for whale watchers.  Orcas (aka “killer whales”) should not technically whales in any respect however are the biggest of the dolphins. Nevertheless, they’re recognized to hunt and kill massive whales.

orca portrait

Orca watching Bremer Bay © Daniel Mantle/ Naturaliste Charters

Beforehand discovering Orcas within the area was opportunistic, however since Naturaliste Charters began their expedition round a decade in the past, the crew have grow to be specialists to find the educational the actions of the pod with Orcas seen virtually day by day.

The easiest way to expertise this phenomenon is with Naturaliste Charters who run a full-day Bremer Canyon Killer Whale Expedition

whale watching boat near shore

Your whale-watching boat at Bremer Bay ©Naturaliste Charters

Whereas watching orcas is in itself an unbelievable expertise, what occurs at Bremer Bay is at least extraordinary. Orcas are in Bremer Bay to observe different whales. They haven’t solely accepted whale-watching boats and appear unbothered by them, however they’ve realized find out how to use these boats to their benefit throughout hunts. For instance, they’ve been seen driving Beaked Whales proper towards the boats and pinning them towards the hull for a neater kill. 

two orca whales and tourists

Shut encounters on a Bremer Bay Killer Whale tour© Naturaliste Charters

Together with beaked whales, the world can also be a transit level for humpbacks passing by way of on their migration north, and a winter breeding floor for southern proper whales. 

These massive orca predation occasions usually entice 1000’s of seabirds hoping to get some scraps. great-winged petrels, white-faced storm-petrels, flesh-footed shearwater, little shearwater, black-browed albatross, shy albatross, and Indian yellow-nosed albatross are some regulars. 

sea birds

Wandering Albatross preventing for scraps © Keith Lightbody/Naturaliste Charters

Every day is totally different and something can occur while you be part of one of many Bremer Bay orca excursions. Whether or not watching orcas stress-free or witnessing a hunt, you ought to be ready for an adrenaline rush at any time throughout your killer whales tour in Bremer Bay.

This wildlife spectacle will likely be one of many highlights of your journey to Australia, and perhaps, if you happen to get fortunate, your whole life! Marine biologists on board will reply any questions you may have about orca habits and can interpret any interactions with different marine species. 

“On an expedition, we’re exploring the unknown. It’s genuinely mind-blowing.” Dave Riggs, filmmaker and Naturaliste Charters tour information


Throughout your killer whale expedition with Naturaliste Charters, you’ll have the possibility to assist whale researchers. A part of your price goes to the Division of Biodiversity, Conservation and SightsWestern Whale Analysis, and to Mission ORCA.  

It’s also possible to contribute by donating your orca whale images for the creation of a Photograph-ID catalog that Mission ORCA and the Centre for Marine Science and Expertise (CMST) at Curtin College are creating. This info is essential for the examine of orca populations, their habits, and conservation. Your participation is drastically appreciated.

In the event you take any images of orcas, make sure that to deal with their eye patches, any marks on their dorsal fin, and their saddle patch, as that is how they’re recognized. 

two orca whales swimming in ocean

Eye patches are distinctive to the person  © Daniel Mantle/Naturaliste Charters

The blue whales of Geographe Bay, Western Australia

A couple of hours west of Bremer Bay, alongside the stretch of coast between Augusta and Dunsborough, is one other great place to meet up with whales. However not simply any whale! 

Right here you may have an opportunity to see the biggest animal that has ever existed on the planet, far bigger than even the largest dinosaur: the blue whale! It might probably weigh as a lot as 200 tons! (That’s not less than 30 elephants.)

For the previous few years, biologist Pia Markovic has been researching the pod dynamics of those uncommon blue whales. Not way back it was believed that blue whales had been solitary, however due to this new analysis it’s now recognized that blue whales journey in pods. 

blue whale and a boat

Blue whale and the whale-watching vessel at Margaret River © Naturaliste Charters

Their blue whale analysis additionally contains photograph ID’ing whales. Within the case of blue whales, they’re dorsal fins and distinctive physique markings as identifiers. By figuring out the person whales, researchers can get an thought of pod dynamics and social construction inside these teams. 


“For us, it’s the group dynamics which might be actually exceptional. What path is the pod heading in? How large are the whales? Is there a calf within the pod? Any info collected is donated to Western Whale Analysis who’ve been conducting whale surveys within the space for the previous 20 years.” Pia Markovic, Naturaliste Charters


In the event you dream of watching blue whales in Australia, go to Geographe Bay from November to December and be part of one in all these whale-watching journeys with Naturaliste Charters. 

tourist boat watching whales

Watching humpbacks from boat in Augusta @Bianca Uyen//Naturaliste Charters

Swimming with whales in Ningaloo, Western Australia

A World Heritage Website, the Ningaloo Coast is situated within the northwest area of Western Australia alongside the Indian Ocean some 745 miles north of Perth.

Ningaloo Reef, one in all Australia’s most interesting gems, is 160 miles lengthy and one of many longest near-shore reefs on the earth. 

Between March and August, coinciding with mass coral spawning occasions, round 300 to 500 whale sharks mixture right here yearly. Whale sharks are the world’s largest shark species and are solely known as “whale” sharks due to their immense measurement. (See extra whale shark info right here.)

whale shark and boat

Whale shark swim boat at Ningaloo © Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo

It’s the right time to go to the reef and go swimming with whale sharks, sea turtles, and manta rays. This is among the world’s largest aggregations of whale sharks and a should for any go to to Western Australia. You possibly can swim with whale sharks of their pure habitat on an Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo whale shark tour. However whale sharks aren’t the one giants within the neighborhood.

From July to November, about 30,000 humpback whales journey alongside the Ningaloo Coast on their strategy to and from their winter breeding grounds starting from Exmouth Gulf to the Kimberley. Right here you’ll be able to expertise one of many world’s most unbelievable whale-watching adventures: a swim with humpback whales. 

Swimming with whales is gaining popularity in Australia. To make sure minimal disturbance to mom whales and their younger, there are strict guidelines are in place. To have a optimistic expertise, select one of many tour operators that solely takes a small group of individuals at a time and that contributes to the conservation of whales and the reef. It’s priceless to know that your go to has contributed to the well-being of those unbelievable animals and their habitat. 

humpback whale breaching

Humpback whale breaching on Ningaloo Coast © Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo

Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo supply whale watching excursions, reef snorkeling, manta rays excursions, swimming with whale shark excursions, and swim with humpback whales excursions

“The primary time I swam with a humpback whale took my breath away and it felt like there was nothing else on the earth besides this big of the ocean and me.” – Corine Mathews, Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo

Their excursions contribute to humpback whale analysis, and security (for each whales and people) comes first. There are pilots within the air monitoring the whales and in touch with the skippers by radio. The entire group is in fixed communication to make sure a protected and life-changing expertise. 

humpback whale and calf swimming by shore

Humpback whale with calf © Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo

Typically the swim will contain a lone whale, generally it’ll have a calf in tow, and generally there’ll be a couple of whales round. Every day is totally different. 

After the whale swim, you’ll have the chance to snorkel on the reef the place you may encounter sea turtles and rays. Even if you happen to don’t see a whale, hold your ears open throughout your snorkel on the reef. These squeaks and grunts you hear are humpback whales! I can’t consider something extra thrilling than snorkeling in one of many largest reefs whereas listening to whales singing! 

two margine butterflyfish

Stunning Margined Butterflyfish at Ningaloo Reef © Sabine Zucculo/Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo

How one can assist whales in Australia

All cetacean species at the moment are legally protected in Australian waters, however they nonetheless face many human-caused threats together with collisions with ships, fishing gear entanglement, underwater noise air pollution, and local weather change which impacts ocean temperatures and circumstances throughout their migration routes. 

You possibly can assist Australian whales by becoming a member of accountable whale-watching excursions that contribute to whale analysis and by following rules that defend cetaceans. (Right here’s an excellent set of whale and dolphin watching rules from the Nice Barrier Reef Marine Park) It’s also possible to contribute to citizen science tasks which might be studying about whale ecology by monitoring people utilizing pictures. Listed below are some nice tasks the place you’ll be able to contribute your pictures.

Whales of Australia

Right here’s an inventory of all of the species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises (cetaceans) encountered in Australian waters. See what number of you’ll be able to spot in your subsequent whale-watching journey!

Baleen whale species in Australia

  • Antarctic minke whale
  • Blue whale
  • Dwarf minke whale (subspecies)
  • Fin whale
  • Humpback whale
  • Pygmy proper whale
  • Sei whale Bryde’s whale
  • Southern proper whale

Toothed whale species in Australia ( together with dolphins & porpoises)

  • Andrews’ beaked whale
  • Arnoux’s beaked whale
  • Australian snubfin dolphin
  • Blainville’s beaked whale
  • Bottlenose dolphin
  • Coastal bottlenose (Indo-Pacific) dolphin
  • Widespread dolphin
  • Cuvier’s beaked whale
  • Dusky dolphin
  • Dwarf sperm whale
  • False killer whale
  • Fraser’s dolphin
  • Ginkgo-toothed beaked whale
  • Grey’s beaked whale
  • Hector’s beaked whale
  • Hourglass dolphin
  • Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin
  • Killer whale
  • Lengthy-finned pilot whale
  • Longman’s beaked whale
  • Melon-headed whale
  • Pantropical noticed dolphin
  • Pygmy killer whale
  • Pygmy sperm whale
  • Risso’s dolphin
  • Tough-toothed dolphin
  • Shepherd’s beaked whale
  • Brief-finned pilot whale
  • Southern bottlenose whale
  • Southern proper whale dolphin
  • Spectacled porpoise
  • Sperm whale
  • Spinner dolphin
  • Strap-toothed beaked whale
  • Striped dolphin
  • True’s beaked whale


whale watching in Australia

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles