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Whale watching 101: A handy guide to spotting whales

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Wild About Whales
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Marine mammals
Whale watching from a beach in Bouddi National Park

If you have never gone whale watching before, the prospect may seem a little daunting, but with these handy tips we hope to help you have the best time whale watching.

Where to go

As 50% of the NSW coastline is made up of national parks, they offer a wide variety of beautiful vantage points for spotting whales. Best of all, you can choose a vantage point based on your preferences:

  • Combine your whale watching experience with a coastal getaway and take advantage of national parks accommodation, from rustic cabins to quaint cottages. Check out current accommodation deals
  • Or combine an invigorating bushwalk with the tranquillity of watching whales with a coastal track, such as Tomaree Head Summit
  • If you are after a more relaxing option, choose a lookout or viewing platform where you can settle down with a hot drink, get the binoculars out and watch for whales, like Cape Solander in Kamay Botany Bay National Park

Blog - Tomaree Head Summit

When to go

May to July are the best months to see whales north of the Illawarra as they head to warmer waters to breed. Then from September to November the whales will stick closer to the coastline as they head south with their calves.

The best times of day for whale watching are late morning and early afternoon in order to avoid the sun's glare on the water. Early morning has the added bonus that the blow is often backlit by the morning sun’s glow. However, as the migrating whales are travelling past constantly, you just might see them at any time of the day.

Blog - When to see whales

Image credit: Jodie Lowe

What to bring

  • Warm clothes and a blanket
  • Comfy chairs
  • 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 (though your phone will do)

Blog - Bouddi Whale Watching

What to look for

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 whale 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.

Blog: Whale blow

Image credit: Jodie Lowe

Don't forget the Wild About Whales app

Download the Wild About Whales app to log your sightings in real time and receive notifications when whales are spotted in your area. The app also provides information on common whale species, top spots for whale watching, accommodation deals and more. Download the app now.

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