The Ultimate Guide to Whale Watching in Sydney

Wave Line

Every year, thousands of beautiful whales can be seen migrating up Australia’s east coast and along Sydney’s coastline towards their mating and calving grounds in the Coral Sea.
Whale watching is therefore an extremely popular activity for tourists and locals alike. The whale watching season provides a unique opportunity to first-hand see the magnificent creatures enjoying their natural playground, and is undoubtedly one of the most exciting activities for the whole family to enjoy.
Seeing these majestic giants breach out of Sydney’s sparkling waters and slap their fins or tail flukes is a sight to behold and one you certainly don’t want to miss out on.
If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of these gorgeous sea animals, then be sure to have a read of our ultimate guide. Here we’ve explained everything you need to know about whale watching in Sydney, including when and where the best place to see them is.

Whale Migration Season – When Will Whales be Swimming Past Sydney?

Sydney’s whale watching season extends from May through to December, and can be split into two parts: Northern Migration & Southern Migration.

Northern Migration

During May, June, July and the start of August, the whales are coming from Antarctica and heading north past New South Wales to the warmer waters of the Coral Sea to mate and give birth.

It is during these months that you’re most likely to get a sight of the whales. The whales use the Inshore Northern Current to help them migrate north, and as this current is typically found within 3 nautical miles of the coast, most of the migrating population will be in between this current and land.

As it’s such a long journey, the whales frequently rest and socialise on the way, which is why they sometimes detour right into Sydney Harbour for a few hours.

It’s also worth noting that not all members of a particular population will travel together, so different groups of whales are likely to pass at slightly different intervals (older juveniles are usually first, followed by mature males and then mothers and calves).

Southern Migration

From the end of August to December, the whales are swimming back past Sydney and returning to the south with their calves to feed in the Antarctic waters.

Bear in mind though that it can be much more difficult to spot the whales as they head back to Antarctica. The whales use the East Australian Current to assist them moving south, and although it usually begins around the 3-nautical-mile line, it can peak in strength up to 20 nautical miles from the coast, meaning they’re some distance away from the shore and harder to see from land.

However, mothers and new-born calves usually swim particularly close to the shoreline as they pass south to stop in safe areas near beaches to rest and feed, so it’s possible you’ll get a glimpse of these.

What Type of Whales Will You See in Sydney?

Humpback whales are by far the most commonly sighted wales along the coastline of Australia’s biggest city.

Southern right whales are also common, but they follow a slightly different migration pattern to humpback whales – as they gradually migrate, they seek for places to mate and shelter with their new-born calves, entering and staying in bays or harbours for a few days at a time before moving on.

Killer whales, false killer whales, minke whales and bryde’s whales have all been spotted in and around Sydney’s coastline, but are much less common.

Bottlenose and pacific dolphins are present throughout the year and are frequently spotted on Sydney’s coastline.

Best Places to See Whales in Sydney

Sydney and its beautiful coastline is full of awesome whale watching vantage points – although you’re never guaranteed to see whales, here are some of our favourite lookout points:

South Head

Located at Watson’s Bay, South Head offers unrivalled whale watching vantage points. The Gap provides one of Sydney’s most picturesque ocean views, and makes the ideal spot for watching migrating whales.

Barrenjoey Headland

Palm Beach’s peninsula’s summit is nearly 100 meters above sea level and rewards you with breath-taking views of the glistening waters and a great chance of spotting travelling humpback whales.

From a Boat

Taking a luxury cruise in the ocean waters is another great way of searching for humpback whales. Although it’s not guaranteed you’ll see any, you’re much more likely to catch a glimpse of these mesmerising creatures while out on the open waters. If you are fortunate enough to see any, the unprecedented views you’ll have of them will be something to treasure; it truly is an unforgettable experience and one that will remain with you forever.

You’ll also be able to enjoy stunning and unique views of New South Wales’ beautiful Harbour as you travel to and from the ocean.

The Coast Track

The 26km Coast Track in the Royal National Park stretches along the gorgeous coastline from Bundeena to Otford in South Sydney and provides numerous whale watching spots. The sandstone cliffs offer not only sublime panoramic views, but also plenty of headlands and lookouts along the track, perfect for spending an afternoon searching for the water giants.

Cape Solander

Favoured by avid whale watchers, Cape Solander features an unbeatable viewing platform. It’s definitely one of Sydney’s best whale watching spots, especially because in the past whales have been known to swim as close as 200m from its coast.

From the Air

If you’re wanting to get a completely different perspective of the whales, jump aboard a helicopter or seaplane to get a birds-eye view of the warm waters. If you’re lucky you’ll see entire families of whales spread out and cavorting below you, as well as experience an aerial perspective of Sydney’s world-famous beaches.

How to See a Whale

It’s important to remember that the photos you see online and in brochures of whales breaching and enjoying the ocean are the best photos taken from years and years of whale watching – they are not everyday sightings, so try not to be disappointed if you don’t see any.

However, to help maximise the chances of you getting a sight of them, here are a few of our top tips:

  • On days when there’s no white caps in the water, you can be sure that any disturbance is likely to be a whale (if you see a big splash, it’s more than likely that you just missed a whale breach).
  • Look just above the sea level for its spout of vertical spray.
  • It’s easier to spot them on calm days rather than windy.
  • Prepare for the longhaul – don’t expect to see any immediately, pack your bags and be prepared to spend a whole day watching (however, you must also understand that you might not see any, even if you do spend a full day watching).
  • Have a quick look online to see if any recent sightings have occurred near you – this will help you to understand where the current best places are to go watching.

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