It’s peak season for the annual migration of more than 30,000 whales around Australia – a round trip that covers about 10,000 km.
If any 40-tonne beast can be called acrobatic, then surely it’s the humpback whale.
Right now, up and down Australia’s eastern seaboard, these majestic creatures of the deep are putting on an almighty performance as they migrate north for the breeding season.
The first week of July is rush hour on Australia’s “humpback highway” as thousands of whales migrate from Antarctica to warmer waters near the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea to breed.
Around 200 whales a day are said to frolic in the waters outside Sydney Harbour at this time of year, some of the 30,000 or so making their way north.
By September, they’ll start returning south with their newborn calves to feed on sub-Antarctic krill.
On this mammoth round trip, the humpbacks will on average cover more than 10,000 kilometres (6,214 miles).
It’s actually one of the longest migratory journeys of any mammal on the planet.
These humpbacks, or megaptera novaeangliae as they’re officially known, will be joined on the journey by southern right whales and less prolific minke whales.
Even the white wonder known as Migaloo was reportedly spotted off the New South Wales coast recently, part way through its journey north.
Whales have been captivating crowds on both sides of the continent, from Wilsons Promontory in Victoria to Cairns in the far north, and from Perth to the Kimberley Coast.
But they’ve been doing it with a lot less fanfare this year.
COVID-19 restrictions mean there are no international tourists to witness all the tail slapping, breaching and flipping that’s happening up and down the coast.
The shutdown in global travel has hurt the whale watching industry, which is estimated to be worth more than $600 million, in a normal year.
Whale Watching Sydney, which has two boats venturing out twice a day from Darling Harbour in search of whales, used to carry 300 people daily. This year, because of strict social distancing requirements, it can only carry 60 people a day.
Cronulla Whale Watching, in southern Sydney, is also operating with reduced passenger numbers, but it’s two daily charters are heavily booked for the first week of July.
Despite the temptation to get up close with these giant mammals, which can grow to 18 metres (60 feet) long, there are strict laws preventing it in Australian waters.
Sightseeing boats and other vessels (including surfboards) are required to stay 100 metres away from the whales, and 200 metres away if the whale has a calf. Jet skis must stay 300 metres away, and maintain a low speed.
Where To See The Whales
If you’re not heading out into deep water on a sightseeing boat, rest assured there are some superb whale watching spots on headlands right around the country.
The best time to spot whales is between 11am and 3pm when the winter sun is directly overhead, providing the best visibility.
On the eastern seaboard, the whales stay close to shore as they head north to avoid the east Australian current, so all you really need is a set of binoculars and some patience.
In the southern states, you’ll spot whales at Victor Harbor in South Australia, Great Oyster Bay in Tasmania, Logans Beach near Warrnambool in Victoria, and along the Great Ocean Road.
New South Wales
Eden on the NSW south coast is a popular place to see the whales. The town even celebrates their return southern journey in October when it hosts the Eden Whale Festival.
In Sydney, Cape Solander Lookout near Cronulla is an unbeatable spot to view migrating whales.
The Bondi to Coogee Walk and The Gap at Watsons Bay are two of the best land-based viewing spots in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
North of the Harbour Bridge, Middle Head and North Head, as well as Barrenjoey Lighthouse, are the pick of the bunch.
The Gold Coast is the place to see the first pods as they arrive in Queensland waters.
Stradbroke Island, Redcliffe, Point Perry, Point Arkwright Lookout and Mooloolaba are other spots in Queensland where you catch a glimpse of the northern migration.
Regular sightings are pretty much guaranteed around the warm waters of The Whitsundays and Southern Great Barrier Reef, as well as in Tropical North Queensland, with daily whale watching cruises always popular.
From mid-August to late November, Western Australia’s whale watching tours are also in full swing as humpbacks, orcas (killer whales) and blue whales make their return journey from the north Kimberley Coast to the food-rich Southern Ocean.
Exmouth, Coral Bay, Kalbarri and Ningaloo are among the best places to see whales in WA. When they’re making their return journey, large pods also pass close to shore near Perth and Fremantle.
© 2020 BERNARD O’RIORDAN (TRAVEL INSTINCT). ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
You Might Have Seen Our Work In These Publications