Whale watching in NSW
Every year, whales migrate along the NSW coastline. They head north to the warm coastal waters of Queensland and the Coral Sea to mate and give birth from late April to August, and return southwards from around September to November. Southern right whales may arrive in our waters anytime through to October. During this migration they can usually be spotted close in to shore.
There are many spectacular land-based sites in NSW national parks where you can watch whales safely from shore. To find the best site close to you check out our guide to whale watching sites.
Watching whales from headlands in our beautiful national parks is a relaxing family pastime
You can also contribute to our understanding of whales by doing some citizen science and joining our Cape Solander Whale Migration Study Volunteer program.
The Cape Solander Whale migration study is a long-term scientific study to collect data on the abundance of whales swimming past Cape Solander (on the southern side of Botany Bay). Each year community volunteers count whales from the 24th May until the 1st of August each year, from sunrise to sunset.
This information helps us to understand the behaviour of whales and contributes to the conservation management of cetacean species. If you are interested in helping out, you can find out how to become involved in this volunteer program.
Botany Bay sunrise whale watch. Photo Geoff Ross/NPWS
Whale watching from the sea
Watching whales from vessels can also be fun and exciting, you can go with a tour or skipper yourself. Always remember that approach distances keep both mariners and whales safe - abide by them at all times.
Late morning and early afternoon are reasonably good times of the day to whale watch from most vantage points, as the glare off the water doesn't make sighting the tell-tale 'blow' too difficult. Early morning can also be a good time as the 'blow' is often highlighted by the back light of the morning sun.
Approaching whales and dolphins in NSW
Vessel-based whale watching is popular in NSW. Unlike Hervey Bay in Queensland, where whales are resting with new-born calves, most humpback whales in NSW waters are actively migrating. Any disturbance by vessels could affect these animals.
Whales require 'personal space', and harassment may severely stress them - possibly causing accidents both for humans and whales if the whales feel threatened. This is especially important in the case of the adults with calves, which may be either resting or suckling. Research has shown that whales are highly sensitive to engine noises. You should also be aware that during the mating season, males competing for females may engage in rough physical contact.
Whales are protected animals, and if you go out on the water, you should follow the regulations for whale watching. They've been designed to make whale watching enjoyable and safe, without interference to the whales.
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Marine Mammals) Regulation 2006
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Marine Mammals) Regulation 2006 was introduced to protect marine mammals such as whales and dolphins while allowing people to appreciate them in the wild. View a summary of the Regulation's provisions.
Wild about whales
Some of the best whale watching spots can be found in our national parks all along the NSW coast, stretching from Byron Bay in the north to Eden in the south.
As well as whale watching, there are plenty of other activities to experience in our coastal national parks, from bushwalking and photography, to Discovery tours and spotting a wealth of other marine and land based wildlife.
Start to plan your coastal adventure at www.wildaboutwhales.com.au. It’s the best way for you to learn about whales migrating along our coastline, and to find the best spots in our national parks to see whales and enjoy other great coastal adventures.
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Page last updated: 31 January 2014