Sydney Whale Watching 101: Guide To The Whales & Beyond

Whalecome to Sydney! People don’t just come here for the bright lights and architectural marvels, but also for the beguilling giants that grace its clear blue waters – the whales. As winter rolls in, the majestic whales make their annual migration from Antarctica along the east coast of Australia – this is the time to venture out into the open blue and witness one of nature’s greatest migrations.

Over the years, we’ve been offering a choice of whale watching tours along the Sydney coast, bringing our guests closer than ever to these giants of the ocean. This comprehensive guide will equip you with everything you need to know about the whales – whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned whale enthusiast. So, get your sunnies ready, let’s sail out for an adventure!

Best Time & Place For A Whale Encounter

A panoramic view of Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House & the harbour

During May to November, over 40,000 Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales make their epic trek from the cold, Antarctic waters. The peak season begins from between late June till July, offering the perfect window to encounter these majestic beings.

Nothing compares to watching these 40-tonne mammals leap out of the water just a few metres away from you – which is why a Sydney whale watching cruise is the best way to see them up close! Most of these whale tours in Sydney depart from Darling Harbour or Circular Quay, both of which are only a few minutes away from the Central Business District.

A Variety of Whales Await

A whale spotted right below a tour group in Sydney

Sydney’s whale watching season is all about the Humpback Whale migration but the open ocean is not just limited to one species of whales! Southern Rights, Minke Whales, Blue Whales, Melon-Headed Whales and sometimes even the apex predator, Orcas, can also be spotted along the coastline. There have been instances where an Albino Humpback Whale was spotted off Fingal Bay! We can’t wait to see all the new characters during the brand-new whale watching season!

Whale Migration: What, When & Why

Pod of whales during their annual migration

In the animal kingdom, the whales have one of the longest migrations, between their breeding grounds and food sources. Now, this is where it gets interesting. To survive the cold Southern Ocean, the whales develop a thick layer of fat on their skin to keep them warm. They acquire this extra layer from their food.

However, newborns are not born with this insulation, making survival challenging in the Antarctic. They rely on warm tropical waters and their mother's rich milk to build up their fat layer. Hence, the migration up north. After breeding, whales swim back with their newborns in tow. It's during this return journey that you'll often spot them closer to shore, frolicking and relaxing, taking their time with their newborns.

Applauding The Whale Show

A majestic whale leaping out of the water, showcasing its acrobatic prowess

On a whale watching tour in Sydney, you’re likely to see these giants put their sheer acrobatic skills on display. The most dramatic of them is the breach, where it launches itself into the skies, completely airbourne momentarily, before plunging back into the water. While the pros are still unsure why they do this, there are theories that it could be one of their communication techniques. It surely gets the message across!

The whales are at their curious best when performing a spy hop – popping their head out of the water to have a scout above the surface. The tail-slaps and pec-slaps are done when they lift their tails or massive fins out of the water, before slapping them onto the surface. Experts believe that this could be a female flirting technique. This, together with the amorous scent they release, is a signal to the nearby males that they’re ready for some attention!

To Make Your Whale Watching Adventure Smooth

A Humpback Whale spotted just metres away from a whale watching tour group

Before embarking on your first whale tour, be as prepared as the whales on their northern migration. Layers are key – bring a jacket as the weather in Sydney is unpredictable.

Nothing’s worse than missing out on all the action by getting sick. Don’t forget to take a seasickness tablet before boarding a cruise or get one from your whale tour operator.

Last, but never the least, slap on some sunscreen. It may feel windy, but hours under the Aussie sun will give your skin quite the bronzing.

As the new whale watching season approaches each year, Sydneysiders find themselves 'overwhalemed' with excitement. Don't miss out on this whale watching season; join a cruise and witness one of Earth's surreal marine creations, eye to eye!