Australia is quite privileged when it comes to whales – over 50% of the world's cetaceans are found in Australian waters. According to recent estimates at least 45 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises visit or live permanently in Australia, including 9 baleen whales and 36 toothed whales species.
The number of whale species found in Australia could even increase. Ongoing research may identify new species based on genetic information. A recent example of this is the Australian snubfin dolphin (Orcaella heinsohn), which was classified as a new species endemic to the Australian region in 2005.
Whale distribution in Australia varies widely. Some species, like the orca, are widespread and found in all waters, while other species such as some beaked whales are much more elusive . In fact some whales are so elusive that the only information we have about them comes from when they become stranded.
Whaling in Australia
Whaling started in Australia in the late 18th century soon after the first settlers arrived. By the early 19th century whaling stations were being developed along the coastline and whaling became one of Australia’s first export industries.
Aboriginal culture and whales
Rock engravings and contemporary stories show the strong relationship between local Aboriginal people, whales and The Dreaming. Some of these rock engravings and paintings are estimated to be over 1000 years old.
Some interesting stories, anecdotes and whale encounters can be found throughout NSW, showing the relationship that Australians have with these animals.