Top 10 whale-watching spots in Australia

By Beth Carter June 4, 2014
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Whale-watching season is here and experts say it’s going to be a bumper one. Here are the best places to see whales.

AUSTRALIA IS ONE OF the best places in the world to see whales, often right from accessible beaches and cliff-faces of our vast coastline.

More than 45 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises call Australia home; in fact, nearly 60 per cent of the world’s whales can be found in our waters.

Experts believe his year’s whale-watching season will be the longest and largest in New South Wales of the past 50 years.

“This year we’re expecting between 2400 and 2500 whales,” says Geoff Ross, the coordinator of marine fauna programs for NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. “Each year the number of whales we see increases by a couple of hundred whales; we know the population is increasing by 10 to 14 per cent.”

The most commonly sighted whales are southern rights and humpbacks, which make annual migration up both the west and east coasts of Australia from Antarctica, to breed and mate.

“The population of humpbacks is very, very healthy, and we’ve seen more southern right whales in the past couple of years than ever before,” says Geoff.

But there’s also the chance to see other species, such as blue whales, minke whales and orcas, from many spots along Australia’s coastline.

“Any of our large, well-cleared, safe headlands are a good place to visit to see whales,” says Geoff. “On their northern migration, they stay in close to avoid the East Australian Current, usually within five kilometres of shore.”

Top 10 whale-watching spots in Australia

Eden, NSW

The first humpbacks making their annual journey to the warm waters off Queensland can be seen between in this far-south coastal town between June and August. If you wait a little longer, between September and November you’ll be able to see mothers and calves as they return south to Antarctica. They travel in large numbers and stay close to shore with their young. Sperm whales and orcas can be seen further off the coast near the continental shelf. In between whale-watching stints, also check out the Killer Whale Museum, which detailes the history of whaling in this area.

Hervey Bay, QLD

Humpback whales have made Hervey Bay a regular stop on their annual migration south. The whales begin to arrive in Hervey Bay from mid-July, where they remain until late November, before heading south again.. The waters are sheltered by Fraser Island, so the humpbacks usually stop and rest or play – especially with their young – for a few days before heading off again.

Exmouth, WA

Between April and July, whale sharks visit Exmouth to feed on zooplankton that thrives in the warm water. Despite their name, whale sharks are actually the world’s biggest fish, growing up to 18m in length. Whale sharks swim the world looking for concentrations of food. Ningaloo Reef is one of the only places they return to regularly, in large numbers.

Great Australian Bight Marine Park, SA

About one-third of all southern right whales in Australian coastal waters were born in the bays of the Great Australian Bight. The Head of Bight region provides excellent cliff-top viewing of southern right whales mating, calving, and nursing between May and October, often within 100m of the shore. Dolphins, Australian sea lions and great white sharks also live here. Several other species of whale also migrate through the area.

Albany, WA

Humpback whales travelling north-west to Broome can be seen travelling in a line across Albany’s bays between June and November. Southern right whales also migrate north from Antarctica, but they take shelter in Albany’s southern bays to mate and give birth before returning south. Visitors to Albany can also learn about the whales at ‘Whale World’, the interactive museum which was previously a whaling station.

Port Stephens, NSW

Port Stephens is made up of 26 golden sandy beaches, including the largest sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere. The bay itself is home to 165 bottlenose dolphins, but it is also an excellent location from which to admire the acrobatic displays of humpback whales on the annual northern migration between June and August, and southern return between September and November.

Whitsundays, QLD

Every year from May to September humpback whales make the waters in and around the Whitsunday Islands their home. Because the waters are shallow, sheltered and warm it is the ideal calving ground and nursery for newborn whales. Humpback whales can be seen amongst the islands, and occasionally on the Great Barrier Reef, with their young.

Warnambool, VIC

Every year southern right whales return to Warnambool to give birth in the sheltered bays along the coast. They’re easy to spot as they like to stay close to the shore. They were named ‘right’ whales because they were slow and easy to spot, which made them easy to hunt. There’s a free viewing platform off Logans Beach Road which is open throughout the year, but southern right whales start arriving in June and stay until September. Rare blue whales can be seen occasionally well off the shore during May, their last feeding month.

Victor Harbour, SA

The most reliable time to spot a whale in Victor Harbour is in July or August, when southern right whales return to the sheltered bays to calve and mate. But Victor Harbour is also home to a colony of little (or fairy) penguins, the world’s smallest penguin breed. Southern right whales are often seen within 100 metres of shore, and because they rarely swim at more than 10km/h they often can be seen for extended periods of time. 

Bruny Island, TAS

Every year both humpback whales and southern right whales travel past Bruny Island, with some stopping to take shelter in Adventure Bay. The whales can be spotted between May and July, and September and December, with some whales staying for as long as five weeks. Occasionally, other whale species like the pygmy right whale, minke whale and the orca can be spotted migrating past the island.