Southern Exposure – Whale Watching

If you’re planning a whale-watching cruise in the near future, Australia should be on your short list of destinations. Few places worldwide can offer the frequency or variety of whale watching opportunities that are found in Australia.

Your whale watching trip criteria should include the chance to see many different types of whales. The most predominant species in Australia’s territorial waters are humpbacks, southern right whales, and orcas (though these are not technically whales at all, we’ll include them in the discussion – they are magnificent to see in the wild!). These are not all of the species you can find here, as Minke,  f2art  fin, Sei, Bryde’s, pygmy, sperm, pilot, melon, and many species of beaked whales also have Australia in their annual migration path.

Whale watching in Australia varies depending on the location. For example, southern right whales are most frequently seen around the southern coastal waters of Australia, and not usually found to the north. Humpbacks, the most famously vocal singers of the cetacean family, are usually seen off the eastern and western coasts, while orcas can be seen all around Australia. For further refining your plans, consider the following:

New South Wales – Humpback whales are most commonly seen from the coast here from June through December.

Queensland – From July through September, humpbacks predominate in this area as well. The neighborhood of the Great Barrier Reef often hosts dwarf Minke whales.

Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia – Your whale watching trip is most likely to run into southern rights in the waters off of these states.

Western Australia – Head toward Western Australia for a whale watching cruise that may encounter southern right whales, humpbacks, and even the enormous blue whales. Blues were hunted nearly to extinction, and remain endangered, but their population is making a comeback.
While Australia was a major force in the whaling industry from the late 1700’s until 1978, the nation’s territorial waters now form the Australian Whale Sanctuary. There are strict regulations in place to protect whales at all locations around Australia, with protective borders extending from the coast out to 200 nautical miles or more (370 kilometers plus). Boats cannot deliberately approach closer than 100 meters to any whale, and must exercise a high level of caution within 300 meters of any whale. It is also not allowed to touch or feed whales inside the sanctuary.

Whatever your specific destination, whale watching trips in Australia are sure to provide ample opportunity to see and document the ocean’s most majestic creatures.


Following Charles Darwin

Famously featured in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the Galapagos Islands continue to be a refuge rich in biological diversity. Whether on land or sea, this archipelago offers the naturalist an unparalleled experience. Of the many rare creatures inhabiting the Galapagos chain, the various species of whales tend to attract more than their fair share of attention, drawing travelers worldwide for whale watching trips.

The Galapagos Islands, just off the western coast of Ecuador, are in a warmer water climate than the normal habitat of most whale species. These majestic creatures migrate northward from the Antarctic each year for mating and calving, and can frequently be seen in groups of up to 20 animals. Because these islands were a natural part of the migration path, it was inevitable that the whaling industry would center here. In the 1700’s and 1800’s, this was the most lucrative whaling ground in the world.

Fortunately, times have changed and now whaling is prohibited in most areas, allowing these animals that were nearly hunted to extinction a chance to rebuild their populations. The 133,000-km2 area including the Galapagos Islands has been declared an Ecuadoran National Park since 1978, an official Whale Sanctuary since 1990, and was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Whale watching cruises offer an excellent chance to see pods of whales throughout the area, and are growing in popularity.

Visitors to the Galapagos can see many whale species, including the Blue whale, which is the largest animal on Earth, and maybe the largest that ever lived. Sperm whales, humpback whales, fin whales, Bryde’s whales, Sei whales, and the Minke whale can all be seen in these waters. In addition, whale watchers can see the Pilot whale and Cuvier’s beaked whale here, but technically these join the Orcas as members of the dolphin family. These animals are often referred to as “false” whales.


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