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Blog: Whale tales

Paul Chai journeyed up the NSW coastline during the 2012 whale migrating season. Recount his trip.


Whales in Sydney Harbour

Sydney is well positioned to see both the winter northern migration and the spring southern migration of the 'great' whales.

Whales have been entering Sydney Harbour for centuries. Evidence of this can be found at Balls Head in Wollstonecraft, where ancient Aboriginal engravings (believed to be over 1000 years old) depict the image of a large whale.

Visits since 2002

More recently there have been a number of whales entering Sydney Harbour. Humpback whales, including females, burdened with young calves, have sought shelter in bays like Manly. And though not as common in NSW waters, the southern right whale is very comfortable in the shallow warm waters of Sydney’s bays and estuaries. On several occasions since 2002 southern rights have entered the harbour, Pittwater or Botany Bay, to take up temporary residence and explore the smaller bays.

In July 2002, a whale and its calf swam deep into the harbour, going underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge. An exclusion zone was set up by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. This allowed onlookers to photograph and watch the whales, whilst allowing them to swim where they liked and be left relatively undisturbed.

In 2003, three whales swam into the harbour and thrilled onlookers by frolicking in front of the Opera House. The whales were photographed spy hopping and tail slapping.

In November 2007, a female humpback whale and her calf paid a short visit to the harbour. The whales were spotted near Bradleys Head, from where they made their way to Rose Bay before exiting the harbour a short while later.

In 2009 whale watchers on board a whale cruise were lucky to witness a pod of orcas. More commonly known as killer whales, they were a rare sight, especially within the harbour.


Increasing visits

The increase in whales entering Sydney Harbour is partly due to improvements in the water quality. So hopefully these exciting animals will continue visiting and delighting Sydneysiders and visitors alike.

  • NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service
  • NSW