Whale Watching Guide

Little preparation is necessary to enjoy some of the great whale-watching spots in NSW national parks, but sometimes a little planning can enhance the 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.

Species you might see

Every year, humpback whales and southern right whales migrate along the NSW coastline. They head north throughout June and in the first week of July, and return southwards from around September to November. These are the species you are most likely to see. But other whale species that you may see include:

  • minke whale
  • blue whale
  • sei whale
  • fin whale
  • false killer whale
  • orca  or killer whale
  • sperm whale
  • pygmy right whale
  • pygmy sperm whale
  • Bryde’s whale

Typical whale behaviour

Breaching

Breaching is a form of surfacing behaviour where most or all of the cetacean’s body leaves the water. Many species do this, but some, such as humpbacks, seem to breach more frequently. There are many theories as to why whales do this: to communicate, to attract other whales or to warn off other male. But no one really knows exactly why – yet.

Lobtailing or tail slapping and fin slapping

Lobtailing occurs when a whale or dolphin lifts its tail flukes out of the water and then brings them down onto the surface of the water hard and fast in order to make a loud slap. Similarly, species with large flippers may also slap them against the water. This behaviour may be used to communicate, scare fish or may be a sign of aggression.

Spy-hopping

Sometimes whales lift their head and sometimes part of their chest vertically out of the water so that their eyes are just above the water line – this is called spy-hopping. It is believed that whales do this to take a look around above the water.

Blow

Whales blow air, water vapour and mucus as they surface to take a breath. Each whale species has its distinctive blow.

What to note when identifying a whale

  • body length
  • presence of a dorsal fin
  • size and position of the dorsal fin
  • shape and size of flippers
  • shape of the head and general body shape
  • presence of a beak
  • shape of the blow
  • body colour and patterns
  • swimming characteristics
  • presence of teeth or baleen and number of teeth

 

  • NSW Government
  • National Parks & Wildlife Service NSW