Orcas, whale sharks and salties – see them all here this year

Australia abounds in mesmerising marine life. Here’s where you can have the best aquatic encounters around the country.
By Liz Ginis February 9, 2021 Reading Time: 7 Minutes Print this page

Fifteen metres deep in water as blue as cobalt and my ears are filled with music. There are lyrics, I’m sure, but they’re undecipherable to me. Sadly, whale song isn’t my specialty.

But ask the folks at Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo, with whom I’ve climbed into the water off Western Australia’s spectacular coastline, and they have a host of theories.

“Thousands of humpback whales grace the waters off Exmouth between June through to the end of October, as they make their migratory journey north from the Antarctic for mating and calving, and return south for the summer feeding grounds,” says Debbie Ferguson, who along with her husband Mark, owns the company.

“During their migration cycle, they use Ningaloo’s pristine waters as their ‘resting area’, and we are privileged to have an incredible 40,000 mammals pass by our doorstep every year.

“We like to think the whales sing to one another for a host of reasons, and on their journey south after calving, we’re certain the mothers are encouraging their youngsters to keep close.

One of the few companies licensed to host humpback whale swims to the public from late June each year, Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo offers an experience you’ll remember forever.

“Whether you choose to swim in the water under the careful guidance of our experienced divemasters, or opt to remain on board to appreciate the size and scale of the whales from above the surface, one things for certain, you’ll never forget the first time you see and hear these playful, gentle creatures in action,” says Debbie.

Face to face with a majestic humpback

No visit to this stretch of coast would be complete without the piece de resistance – a whale shark swim.

“Our whale shark swims give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the crystal waters of Ningaloo Reef and swim alongside these gentle giants as they cruise to their annual meeting ground for up to six months,” says Debbie.

“Our light aircrafts are in the air longer than any other whale shark swim company along the North West Cape, and our boats are always first on the water. Our ‘early bird’ approach means we’re able to spot whale sharks and humpback whales from above and head directly to their location before any other tour company. With no time or money wasted in the search for these majestic leviathans, you’re guaranteed more time swimming with the whale sharks.

Swim with whale sharks

“Ningaloo Reef’s remarkable eco-system attracts hundreds of whale sharks with its abundance of naturally-occurring food that starts with the annual spawning of coral in March, and continues with the upwelling of nutrient-rich waters from the continental shelf that lies beneath Ningaloo. With plankton drifting closer to the surface, whale sharks gather en masse at Ningaloo to take advantage of easy, abundant feeding.

“While whale sharks can grow to an impressive 15m in length, and have a mouth almost 1.5m wide, they pose no danger to humans. They are calm, slow moving, naturally curious fish that are undisturbed by snorkellers swimming in close proximity.”

Discover more about Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo.

Bremer Canyon orca

Meet Bremer Bay’s killer whales

Many moons ago, as a wide-eyed, early 20-something I had the privilege of cruising alongside a pod of orcas off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. It was a heart-stopping experience, watching these extraordinary creatures slide and slice through the icy water beside our Zodiac. I dearly wanted to slip into the drink with them and connect, but given their name – killer whales – and nature, that would have been very ill advised.

Back then, communing with orcas in Australian waters was unheard of, so how very lucky we are today to have the chance to meet them off the Western Australia coast at Bremer Bay.

Naturaliste Charters are the founder’s of Bremer Canyon killer whale expeditions, and every trip is led by a qualified marine biologist who has extensive knowledge and experience in local marine ecology, wildlife and environmental education.

“This ensures you receive the latest information on these magnificent mammals,” says Naturaliste Charters marine biologist Pia Markovic. “We thrive on involving our guests in activities on board that contribute to research and support longer term conservations efforts, and in helping our guests realise their own importance in protecting our oceans.

“As well as orcas, your expedition may see pods of long-finned pilot whales, sperm whales, a rare beaked whale or blue whale. You can also admire the acrobatics of large pods of bottlenose, striped, and common dolphins, and encounter shark species that include great whites, whaler sharks, and the beautiful oceanic blue, a species never seen from shore.

“Enormous oceanic sunfish surface, and the remains of giant squid sometimes float on the surface, a predator of the deep reduced to scraps, squabbled over by an astonishing array of pelagic seabirds including albatross, shearwater and petrel species.” 

Find out more about the Bremer Canyon Killer Whales expeditions here or join a humpback, southern right and blue whale watching trip from Augusta or Dunsborough.

Humpback whale breaching

This picturesque seaside town of Augusta is one of the best locations in Australia to view humpback whales as they make their epic migration north, filling the beautiful Flinders Bay area.

Each year from late May, you will experience male humpback whales competing for the attention of females through various behaviours including breaching and thunderous tail slaps.

This area is also a critical calving area for the endangered southern right whale in July and August, with the species resting before their migration to the feeding grounds in Antarctica in the spring.

Minke whales and the largest animal to ever have lived, the blue whale are also sighting opportunities with white-bellied sea eagles, osprey, long-nosed fur seals, dolphins and albatross often sure to delight you on board the luxurious Alison Maree catamaran.

Blue whales


The tranquil waters off the beautiful town of Dunsborough provide the perfect backdrop for travellers to regularly observe humpback whales, southern right whales and the possibility of spotting the largest ever creature on earth, the blue whale, as they escort calves born in southward to Antarctica from October onwards.

It is common for these majestic creatures to travel close to shore, as they nurse and rest with their calves in the protected bays, renowned for their crystal blue waters and emerald seagrass meadows.

Aside from the incredible whale encounters, it is also common for guests to spot long-nosed fur seals, white-bellied sea eagles, ospreys, petrels, shearwaters, Australasian gannets and dolphins.

Find out more about these expeditions here.

Saltwater crocodile

Visit croc country for a wildlife experience to savour

Who amongst us hasn’t pictured themselves on an airboat, whipping through the everglades with hair streaming behind them and a beaming, devil-may-care smile smeared across their face?

Well you needn’t wing across the Atlantic for it, but instead head north to the Northern Territory and the wild and untamed waterways of Kakadu and Arnhem Land.

Consummate bushman and owner of Lords Kakadu & Arnhem Land Safaris, Sab Lord, was raised on a buffalo and crocodile hunting station with his appreciation of the wilderness being linked back to his earliest childhood memories. After trying various professions including jackaroo, station manager and spending a year in South Africa, Sab took over the business from his father. Since then, his team have been key advocates in protecting and preserving Kakadu and Arnhem Land, one of the most cherished ecosystems and untouched wilderness areas of Australia.

The team’s passion for the region is infectious as is the connection with the land and the Indigenous communities that call the area home. This relationship formed over many decades, allows access to a range of culturally significant sites. Combined with the vast unpopulated pristine landscapes, guests can not helped being moved and reinvigorated by this World Heritage Listed area.

Airboating

There are a range of tours available but the pièce de résistance is the Ultimate Luxury Safari Adventure, which covers black soil floodplains, paper bark swamps, savannah woodlands, monsoonal rainforests, river mangroves and dramatic escarpments, and is the ultimate Top End adventure for wildlife enthusiasts!

  • Highlights include a visit to Fogg Dam, the iconic Yellow Water Cruise and airboat rides across the Mary River Catchment.
  • The richness and diversity of wildlife is simply extraordinary with wallabies, wallaroos, quolls, dingos, bats, goannas, frogs, pythons, waterbirds, cathedral termite mounds and the legendary Saltwater Crocodile, a small sample of viewing opportunities across these diverse habitats.
  • You will be captivated by the cultural offerings found at the rock art galleries at Injalak and the sacred sites at Mt Borradaile, with the opportunity to learn about Australia’s fauna from the land’s traditional owners an unforgettable experience.
Agile wallaby

If your time is limited, the 3-day Kakadu & Arnhem Land is a must. This epic, tailored adventure across the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land winds across stunning floodplains and escarpments in search of formidable saltwater crocodiles, many of the region’s 280 bird species, adorable marsupials and mammals and incredible flora.

Find out more at Lords Safaris.

Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo, Naturaliste Charters and Lords Kakadu & Arnhem Land Safaris are all represented by Australian Wildlife Journeys, a group of family-owned wildlife tour operators that promise a high level of interpretation in small groups, warm hospitality and a commitment to create a better future for Australia’s remarkable fauna in partnership with like-minded travellers from around the globe.