There is something almost
spiritual about these giants that have graced our oceans for 50 million
years, yet we almost drove them to extinction. It is amazing to think
that relatively few humpback whales were seen travelling along our
shores 15 years ago. These days you can almost be guaranteed of seeing
a humpback whale during winter and spring. Australia has advocated
the need for whale conservation and protection, and is now reaping
Whale watching has become one
of the fastest growing tourism industries in Australia, providing
revenue for coastal townships such as Merimbula, Narooma, Jervis
Bay, Byron Bay, Hervey Bay and Exmouth. It is a big business and
one in which everyone benefits – especially the
The economic value of whale watching has sky rocketed.
In 1991, whale watching contributed $46million to the Australian
economy, while in 2003 this figure had risen to $300million. And
it is reported to be worth a staggering $1.5billion internationally!
Last year, more than nine million people throughout 87 countries
enjoyed whale watching, including some 1.5 million Australians.
Ambassadors of whale watching and conservation, such
as Olive Andrews, Frank Future and Mick McIntyre are dedicated to
educating other countries on the value of whale watching and many
are now reaping the benefits. The Kingdom of Tonga refused to permit
the Japanese to kill whales in their waters. Tourists now travel
from all over the globe to watch and swim with their humpback whales.
It has become a valuable asset to the Tongans and if the whales keep
coming back each year, so will the tourists.
The most significant progress in whale conservation
to date is the proposed establishment of whale sanctuaries worldwide.
In March, 2003, Fiji created a whale sanctuary in its waters and
in doing so joined a growing number of South Pacific countries,
including Australia, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue and
French Polynesia, that are now actively protecting whales and
There are two main species of whale found in Australian
waters; humpback and southern right whales. The humpbacks travel
north along the east and west coasts in June/July each year, and
return in October/November. During their migration north to the warmer
waters of Queensland and Western Australia, the humpbacks travel
quite quickly and breach (jump) very little. On their return journey
south, they usually travel much slower because they have calves,
but can be seen breaching more often.
Places like Narooma, Merimbula and Eden, along the
east coast are wonderful places for whale watching during October/November.
The best way to view these creatures is from a whale watching boat,
as they can quietly follow them several kilometres offshore.
You can also enjoy some excellent whale watching almost anywhere
along the east coast where the coastline juts out to sea. I remember
watching two pods of humpbacks breaching off the Mimosa Rocks
National Park near Bermagui.
Southern right whales usually swim very close to
the beach or shore and will often stay in one area for several days
or weeks. They tend not to breach as much as humpbacks, but I have
seen a calf breach four times at Mollymook Beach on sunset, and a
pair of adults put on an exciting show of belly-flopping at Narrawallee
Beach. Their black and white bellies look similar to that of
orcas, but their lack of a dorsal fin helps to distinguish them.
Right whales make for great land-based whale watching. If you
are approaching whales in boats, please observe the whale watching
Other whale species seen along the east and west
coasts are short- and long-finned pilot whales, minke whales, orcas
and blue whales. Pilot whales are occasionally seen in Jervis Bay
and in offshore waters, while the orcas seem to follow the migration
of the humpback whales. They can sometimes be seen around Montague
Island in May/June, and later in
Once on the brink of extinction, blue whales can be
found in a feeding ground off Victoria’s coastline. They grow up to 33 metres
in length and weigh 180 tons. I remember seeing one in Antarctica
and it was the most beautiful ‘swimming pool blue’ colour
when seen swimming below the surface. When the whale surfaced,
it was a light motley
So, armed with these little bits of information, I
hope I have encouraged you to go whale watching. I will be standing
on the headlands watching and waiting for that magical whale spout
or great splash. I hope to see you out there.
Following is a list of some of Australia’s best whale watching
sites. You can even go whale watching in your own boats in some of
these areas, but be sure to check with the local authorities first.
Cape Otway, Bass Strait (May to October). Its surrounding
cliffs provide great viewing platforms for spotting right whales
Warrnambool, Logans Beach (May to October). One of the best places
to see right whales. Other good spots include Gabo Island, Port Fairy
and Wilsons Promontory. Gabo Island is particularly good for humpback
INFO & TOURS: Warrnambool Visitors Information Centre, tel: 1800
NEW SOUTH WALES
Cape Byron (June-July, September-October) is Australia’s most
easterly point. Cape Byron is prime shore-based whale watching. The
Cape Byron Lighthouse makes for a fine vantage point as do the surrounding
Sydney (June-July, late September-October) offers
some excellent whale watching from places like North Head and South
Head on Sydney Harbour, Whale Beach along Sydney’s northern beaches and Cape
Solander at Botany Bay. There is, in fact, good humpback whale watching
almost anywhere you have the coastline jutting out to sea, and where
you can get a good clear view of the ocean. Right whales have even
played in front of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The Royal
National Park sea cliffs and Stanwell Tops sea cliffs would also
make superb viewing platforms. Whale watching boats operate on Sydney
Narooma (June-July, October-November). Narooma and
Merimbula offer some of best humpback whale and dolphin watching
in New South Wales, and there are several whale watching boats which
operate from Ulladulla, Narooma, Merimbula and Eden. Narooma
is a prime area, as Montague Island and its seal colony can be
seen on the same trip, but be prepared to go elsewhere, such
as Merimbula, if the Narooma sea bar is closed due to large swells.
Sperm whales are also occasionally seen along the New South Wales
The cliffs off Jervis Bay also make for fine whale
watching, especially the ‘Ruined Lighthouse’, which
is quite accessible and only a short walk from the car park. You
can stay overnight in the Booderee National Park (camping) or neighbouring
tourist towns of Huskisson and Vincentia. Or if you have your own
yacht or powerboat, stay on Jervis Bay.
TOURS: Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour, Port Stephens (dolphin
and whale tours), Eden, Merimbula, Jervis Bay (Huskisson), Ulladulla,
INFO: Tourism New South Wales, tel: 132 077.
IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), tel:
1800 00 4329 (IFAW).
IFAW WHALE WATCHING WEBSITE (Day-to-day, reports on
North West Cape (June-October). Here you can see humpback
whales on their annual migration along the Ningaloo Reef,
as well as whale sharks from June to August, although the
whale shark season extends from April to August. The Ningaloo
Reef is famous for its whale sharks and divers can snorkel
with them. Indo-Pacific dolphins can also be seen here. If
you are planning a whale watching trip to Western Australia,
roll up in July and board one of several whale watching/eco-tourism
boats operating out of Exmouth.
Monkey Mia, at Shark Bay (June-October, for whales),
dolphins, dugongs and turtles. Humpback whales only pass along the
coast so you are probably best to board a whale watching/fishing
boat out of Perth.
Esperance (June-October). Located at the western end
of the Archipelago of the Recherche, the Bay of Isles is a breeding
and calving area for right whales. July to October is good
for right whales.
May to October is the best time to see right whales
in Western Australia, with August to November being the best time
to see right whales off Albany.
In Perth, September to November is the best time to
view humpback whales, while July to September is the best time to
see humpbacks in northern Western Australia. Other sites include
TOURS: Perth, Fremantle, Geraldton, Exmouth, Carnarvon,
Albany, Denham, Monkey Mia (dolphin tours).
INFO: Western Australia Visitors Centre, tel: 1300
The Great Australian Bight is a great place to see
right whales and dolphins. Its massive sea cliffs make great vantage
points. The Fleurieu Peninsula, 80 kilometres south of Adelaide,
and the ‘Head of
Bight’ near Nullarbor, are the best sites during May to October
for right whales, as is Victor Harbour (May to September).
Victor Harbour was once a whaling station,
but now hosts the South Australian Whale Centre.
Ceduna is a top spot during June to October.
Other prime sites are Kangaroo Island, Yorke
Peninsula, Port Lincoln and Streaky Bay.
TOURS: Ceduna, Victor Harbour.
INFO: South Australian
Visitor & Travel Centre, tel: 1300 655
Ceduna Visitor Info Centre, tel: (08)
South Australian Whale Centre, tel: (08) 8552
Hervey Bay is the whale watching capital of Australia.
August to November is the prime time to see humpback whales
off Hervey Bay and the Whitsunday Islands. Morton and Stradbroke
Islands are becoming increasingly popular for whale watching,
due to easy access from Brisbane.
TOURS: Airlie Beach, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Tangalooma.
INFO: Fraser Coast/South Burnett Regional Tourism Board, tel:
1800 444 155;
Queensland Travel Centre, tel:
Storm Bay is an excellent place
to see right whales, as is Coles
Bay, located near the Freycinet
National Park. The best time is
September to November. Other top
sites are Bicheno, Bruny Island
and Maria Island.
Occasional strandings of large pods of sperm whales
occur along Tasmania’s
Bruny Island Charters: tel:
(03) 6293 1465.