Whale-watch­ing spots

With 45 cetacean species found around Aus­tralia, a huge va­ri­ety of ma­rine mam­mals can po­ten­tially be spot­ted along the coast­line or out at sea.

Australian Geographic - - Contents - SHAN­NON VERHAGEN

FROM TAIL throws, spy­hops and chin slaps, to blows and leaps above the sur­face while breach­ing, some whales can put on a spec­tac­u­lar dis­play. And it’s a show at which many Aus­tralians have a front-row seat, with nearly 60 per cent of the world’s cetaceans (whales, dol­phins and por­poises) found in our wa­ters. Hump­back and south­ern right whales are the most com­monly sighted. Dur­ing an­nual mi­gra­tions, some species can be seen at many lo­ca­tions, from the warm wa­ters of trop­i­cal Queens­land to the cooler south­ern coast of West­ern Aus­tralia. And with their im­mense size and the ten­dency of some to travel and calve in in­shore wa­ters, they are of­ten eas­ily ob­served from the beach or land-based look­outs.

1 GREAT BAR­RIER REEF, QLD

The best time of year to spot dwarf minke whales on the reef is June–July, when pods of the cu­ri­ous an­i­mals gather here for a few weeks. Lit­tle is known about the mi­gra­tion pat­tern and life cy­cle of this sub­species of the com­mon minke whale, but they are eas­ily dis­tin­guished by their small size and mot­tled grey, black and white coloura­tion. MORE: www.mike­ball.com/ex­pe­di­tions/minke-whale-dive-ex­pe­di­tions

2 WHITSUNDAYS, QLD

Dur­ing May–Septem­ber, short-finned pi­lot whales frolic in the warm wa­ters of the Whit­sun­day Is­lands. Highly so­cial, they are of­ten seen in pods of 15–50. They share this re­gion with hump­backs, which ar­rive here to calve in the nurs­ery grounds of these shal­low, pro­tected wa­ters. ‘Mi­ga­loo’, an al­bino hump­back, has been seen on oc­ca­sion in the wa­ters of trop­i­cal north Queens­land. MORE: www.tourismwhit­sun­days.com.au/ at­trac­tions/whales

3 EDEN, NSW

Large pods of hump­backs can be seen off Eden’s coast dur­ing Septem­ber–Novem­ber, on their south­ward mi­gra­tion from trop­i­cal breed­ing grounds. Stay­ing close to shore with their calves, they can be seen from a num­ber of land-based van­tage points. Killer whales and sperm whales can also be seen fur­ther off the coast. The town’s an­nual whale fes­ti­val takes place at the end of Oc­to­ber, and the killer whale museum pro­vides in­sight into the ar­eas’ whal­ing his­tory. MORE: www.eden­whale­fes­ti­val.com.au

4 BRUNY IS­LAND, TAS

Each year dur­ing May–July and Septem­ber– De­cem­ber, hump­back and south­ern right whales pass through Bruny’s wa­ters. Sight­ings are most com­mon in Ad­ven­ture Bay on South Bruny, where some whales take shel­ter for up to five weeks. Sev­eral other whale species visit the re­gion on oc­ca­sion, in­clud­ing killer whales, pygmy right whales and minke whales. MORE: www.brun­y­cruises.com.au

5 WAR­RNAM­BOOL, VIC

Dur­ing June–Septem­ber, south­ern right whales ar­rive in War­rnam­bool to give birth in shel­tered bays. Their slow pace makes them ideal for whale watch­ing and, sadly, also a tar­get of whalers in the 19th cen­tury. Watch moth­ers and calves frolic off Lo­gans Beach from the view­ing plat­form. Blue whales have also been sighted fur­ther off­shore in May. MORE: www.vis­it­war­rnam­bool.com.au/ whale-watch­ing

6 VIC­TOR HAR­BOR, SA

Dur­ing June–Oc­to­ber, south­ern right whales ar­rive in the warm wa­ters of SA to mate and calve. Swimming close to shore and rarely faster than 10km/h, they can of­ten be watched for ex­tended pe­ri­ods. Hump­backs, sperm whales, or­cas and blue whales are also known to visit the re­gion. Be­tween whale-watch­ing for­ays, stop in at the South Australian Whale Cen­tre to learn about the his­tory of whal­ing and take part in in­ter­ac­tive ex­hibits. MORE: www.sawhale­cen­tre.com

7 GREAT AUSTRALIAN BIGHT MA­RINE PARK, SA

The tail-lob­bing, flip­per-slap­ping and head-stand­ing of south­ern right whales makes for im­pres­sive view­ing. They can be seen and heard from cliff tops in the Head of Bight re­gion dur­ing May–Oc­to­ber, while they mate, calve and nurse their young. Ex­ten­sive coastal whal­ing for oil and baleen dur­ing the 19th cen­tury caused the pop­u­la­tion to crash, but it is now re­cov­er­ing at about 7 per cent per year. The re­gion is also home to a num­ber of other whale species, dol­phins, great white sharks and Australian sea li­ons.

MORE: www. head­of­bight.com.au

8 BRE­MER CANYON, WA

From Bre­mer Bay, about 180km east of Al­bany, tour boats travel 70km off­shore to Bre­mer Canyon, a ma­rine hotspot teem­ing with life in Jan­uary–April. Pods of killer whales reg­u­larly con­gre­gate here along with gi­ant squid, sperm whales, beaked whales, dol­phins, blue sharks and masses of seabirds to take ad­van­tage of in­creased pro­duc­tiv­ity, linked to hy­dro­ther­mal vents on the sea floor. MORE: www.whales-aus­tralia.com.au/bre­mer-killer-whales

9 AL­BANY, WA

Both hump­back and south­ern right whales are reg­u­lar vis­i­tors dur­ing June–Novem­ber as they make their mi­gra­tions to and from Antarc­tica. While the hump­backs con­tinue north to Broome, the south­ern right whales take shel­ter in Al­bany’s south­ern bays to mate and calve, where they can be seen from look-outs along the coast­line. In May–June, blue whales are also oc­ca­sion­ally sighted. Vis­i­tors can learn about the mag­nif­i­cent mam­mals at Whale World, a museum that was once a whal­ing sta­tion. MORE: www.al­bany­whale­tours.com.au

10 GEOGRAPHE BAY, WA

The south-west of West­ern Aus­tralia is a well-known bio­di­ver­sity hotspot, and its wa­ters do not dis­ap­point.

Dur­ing Oc­to­ber–Novem­ber, pygmy blue whales and their calves can be sighted on their south­ward mi­gra­tion, along­side bot­tlenose dol­phins from the coast of Geographe Bay. South­ern right whales, hump­backs and minke whales can also be sighted here. MORE: www.leg­end­char­ters.net.au

South­ern right whales are com­monly spot­ted around Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

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