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The Baleen Routine: A beginner's guide to whale watching

Posted by:
Wild About Whales
Date:
12/05/2017
Posted in:
Marine mammals
Comments:
Tomaree Whale Watching, Tomaree National Park. Photo: John Spencer/OEH

Little preparation is necessary to enjoy some of the great whale watching spots in NSW national parks, but sometimes a little planning can enhance your whale watching experience. Knowing typical whale behaviour, the species you might see and the features that will help you identify the different species, can really make a difference.

Download our app

A great first step is to download the Wild About Whales app for Apple and Android and go mobile with our whale watching guide. You’ll find information on the best vantage points, different whale species you might see and tips for spotting them, as well as a map with the latest whale sightings. You can also record your own sightings and connect with other whale watchers via Twitter and Facebook.

Wild About Whales free smartphone app. Photo: OEH

When to go

Depending on the time of year, whale populations fluctuate within the different regions of NSW. Whales meet their need for food and suitable calving areas by traveling long distances from cold feeding areas, to warm, shallower waters further north for calving and mating. Between the months of May and July whales are easier to spot north of Illawarra, when they undertake their migration northward from Antarctica.Likewise, September to November sees the whales return with calves in tow closer to the shore on their southern migration to the Antarctic.

Learn more about whale migration patterns here!

Best time of day

Late mornings and early afternoons present themselves as the best time to spot the whales as to avoid glare off the waters surface. Early morning can also be good as the blow is often backlit by the morning sun’s glow. However, the migrating whales are travelling past constantly, so you just might see them at any time. 

Humpback Whale Watching. Photo: S Portelli

Where to go

There are a number of great places along the NSW coastline to visit to spot whales stretching from the south to north coasts of New South Wales. The national parks in each of these regions are a great place to start planning your next coastal adventure.

Check out our top spots here!

Where to stay

There are a variety of accommodation options right up and down the New South Wales coast. With over 860 national parks and reserves in NSW, many of which provide excellent viewing opportunities, there is a destination for any preferences. From Byron Bay's Lighthouse Keeper's Cottages to the secluded campsites of Eden and it’s surrounds, there’s a whole ready to be explore!

Assistant Lighthouse Keepers Cottages, Cape Byron State Conservation Area

Check out our coastal accommodation here!

What to take with you

  • Warm clothes and a blanket
  • Chairs to sit on
  • Hat and sunscreen
  • Thermos with a hot drink or soup
  • Drinking water and food
  • Binoculars and sunglasses
  • Camera, with a telephoto lens if you have one
  • Wild About Whales app on your phone
  • Patience!

How to spot a whale

Look for the telltale ‘blow’ – the water sprayed into the air as the whale exhales when it comes to the surface.

Head out on a clear day as the blow is best spotted in calm seas.

Look for the whale’s body as it surfaces. Humpbacks and southern right whales often put on spectacular displays as they arch, roll and crash around the water. This is called breaching and is your best chance to identify the species.

You can sometimes identify the whales species due to its blow. For example sperm whales spray the water forward and to the left, while southern right whales blow in a distinctive V shape. 

Humpbacks in Sydney. Photo: OEH


Check out the different types of whale behaviors you might see.

Read more Wild About Whales blog posts.

*This blog was originally published by Wild About Whales in 2016

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