Travel Attractions

Australia Whale Watching


During the 1790's and early 1800's whaling ships, mainly from Britain, visited ports in New South Wales and Tasmania to unload whale products, but commercial whaling in Australia really developed during the late 1820's.

Whalers obtained oil from the whales for use as lamp fuel, lubricants, candles and as a base for perfumes and soaps. Baleen was used in the 19th century in corsets, whips and umbrellas.

Whaling was Australia's first primary industry. Hunting was initially carried out from small boats and the whales were towed back to a shore station for processing.

The main species caught was the southern right whale; so named because it was slow moving (making it easy to catch), and once killed, the whale would float. It was simply the "right" whale to catch.

By 1845 twenty six thousand whales had been killed and by 1935 there were so few southern right whales remaining that whaling ceased and they became protected internationally.

Before World War II, most hunting for humpback whales near Australia took place on the west coast and in Antarctic waters. Between 1936 and 1938 more than 12,000 humpback whales were killed.

In 1939 a ten year moratorium on humpback whaling was declared to allow the numbers to increase. After the lifting of the moratorium, 18,00 whales were caught and processed (between 1949 and 1963) at Carnarvon, Point Cloates and Albany in Western Australia. The population there was reduced to about 800 whales.

On the east coast of Australia, humpback whaling was initially much less intense and very few whales were taken before 1949.

However, by 1956 whaling stations were operating at Norfolk Island and Moreton Island (near Brisbane) in Queensland, and at Byron Bay and Eden in New South Wales. Between 1950 and 1962 nearly 12,5000 humpbacks were killed and processed along the east coast.

The Byron Bay whaling station operated from 1954 to 1962. During this time 1,146 whales were processed producing 10,000 tons of oil. The official whaling season each year was from the beginning of May until the end of October. The largest whale caught at Byron Bay was a female 15.9 metres long, the minimum legal length was 10.6 metres.

The whaling industry had become so efficient with modern catcher ships and exploding cannon-launched harpoons, that it finally crippled itself by over exploiting the whales. The intensive whaling left many species near extinction and it is unclear whether the blue, fin and right whale populations will ever recover.

Australia ceased whaling in 1978 when international treaties were signed by most whaling countries. However, some of the signatories to the treaties continue to hunt whales for what they call "research" purposes.

Aerial and surface surveys indicate that, from the estimated 200 to 500 humpbacks left in 1962, about 1,900 now migrate up the east coast of Australia.

Humpback whale numbers are recovering slowly and now there are thought to be up to 5,000 breeding in Australian waters. Humpbacks, along with the bowhead, blue and right whales, are some of the most endangered species on the earth. It is estimated that the world population in 1995 was a little over 15,000.

The humpbacks are by far the most common whales to be found in Australian waters. It is believed that as many as 100,000 existed before white settlement and the commencement of whaling in Australia. By the time whaling ceased in Australian waters in 1962, only 200 were left. The present population has built up from those 200 humpback whales to an estimated 3000 making the annual migration to north-eastern Australian waters this year.

Eight species of baleen whales and 35 species of toothed whale, porpoises and dolphins are found in Australian waters.

When To Go

Whale Watching - Australia - East Coast

Dolphins can be seen year round; for Humpback Whales visit Queensland and Hervey Bay between August and November, New South Wales and Wollongong between late May and mid-July or late September - November, or Eden between June and July, or October - November. The weather in Queensland will be warm to hot, whilst in New South Wales it will be cool to cold on water. Land-based whale watching is good here.

Whale Watching - Australia - Southern

Bottlenose Dolphins can be found year-round at the Head of Bight, South Australia, and Port Phillip Bay, Victoria. Southern Right Whales can be found in bays along the South Australia coast between May and October, and also at the Head of Bight and Victor Harbour, South Australia, or Logan's Beach, Victoria, from mid-June to October. From sheltered lookouts weather can be warm but on the water it is cool to cold. Watching is mainly land-based.

Whale Watching - Australia - Western

Bottlenose Dolphins can be found year-round at the famous Monkey Mia, whilst Southern Right Whales can be seen from May - October (August - November for Albany). In Perth and the northern part of Western Australia Humpback Whales can been seen from July - November. Whale watching at Monkey Mia can be hot, and from land the weather can be warm; at sea however it can be quite cool.

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