Whale and dolphin watching in AustraliaSince the Australian government banned the hunting of whales in 1979 (it has to be said that this was remarkably late in the day), the whale watching industry in Australia has become close to a billion dollar industry, proving the vast worth of live whales. Whale watching occurs in all states apart from the Northern Territory, though Tasmania has only a small industry.
Blue whales, though rarely seen, are present in low numbers for much of the year around Perth and the southern coast of New South Wales and Victoria. They are joined in the (southern) autumn by Humpbacks migrating from their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic. Right whales usually appear in June having followed the Humpbacks from the Antarctic waters, both species usually calf while in the warmer Australian waters.
The Right whales are more widespread and can be found almost anywhere along the southern half of Australia at this time. The Humpbacks continue north and spend the late winter off Queensland and northern Western Australia before they all retreat south to their feeding grounds for the (southern) summer. Orcas can be seen at any time of year, as can Minke whales. Various other whales are seen from time to time, including Pygmy Right whales, Sperm whales and Brydes whales.
Where to see Whales and dolphins in Australia
Southern Right whales can be seen in Victoria at Warnambool where the pregnant mothers often calve. The whales often come close into shore so although they are best seen from a boat, shore based viewing is also very popular.
New South Wales
Port Stephen is a key centre for watching Humpbacks as they pass north in June-August, and again on their southerly migration from mid September to mid November. Post Stephen is also a great spot for dolphins.
Byron Bay has become a centre for the whale watch industry as the Humpbacks pass north in June and July, returning south with their calves in September and October. Boat based tours and shore based viewing are possible, though the boats have the added advantage of regular sightings of the local resident populations of Common and Bottlenose dolphins.
The Sapphire Coast, as the southern New South Wales coast is known, has recently become a comparative hotspot for whales from September to December. Large numbers of Humpbacks are seen, occasionally in large groups and usually with Calves. Minke, Sperm and several smaller species of whales are seen, as well as Orca. Fur seals, Bottlenose and Common dolphins, Sunfish and a few sea turtles are all seen here too.
Hervey Bay is where it happens, and it is all about Humpbacks, though dwarf Minke whales and other dolphins as well as turtles and even Dugongs can be seen here.
The Great Barrier Reef is better known as a dive paradise, but you don’t just have to look at small fish when diving. There is a licensed 'dive with whales' programme in June and July when it is permitted to dive and snorkel with Dwarf Minke whales.
However there are many other Cetaceans that visit the Great Barrier Reef, and June and July are by far the busiest months as the Humpbacks visit from the Antarctic. Other regulars include Indopacific Humpback, Bottlenose, Spinner, Fraser’s and Striped Dolphin as well as Orca. Brydes, Sperm, Pilot, Melonhead and False Killer whales can all be seen too.
The main centre for whale watching in South Australia is in Encounter Bay where the Southern Right whales congregate from June to September.
Migrating Humpback and Right whales are the main attractions here, with the occasional Blue whale thrown in to keep you sharp. There are resident populations of Bottlenose dolphins too. The Whales start arriving in June and the Humpbacks stay until December. Blue whales are becoming more regular and are most often seen in October and November. This is one of the best places in the world to see the Giant Blue whale.
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One of the best places in the world to see Southern Right Whales, they can be easily seen from the cliff tops, and especially at the South Australian Whale Watch Centre. This is one of the best viewing areas in the world with up to 70 whales, including calves, congregating in the seas adjacent to the Bunda cliffs.