Seeing a whale is such a thrill, especially if they’re feeling playful. Legend has it, whales in the Derwent River used to make such a racket overnight that residents found them annoying! Sadly, whaling in the 19th century had a drastic impact on the population. Humpbacks, Southern Right Whales, and Blue Whales are still classified as nationally endangered.
Thankfully, these gentle giants are returning to our waters in growing numbers, passing through on their annual migration and delighting humble whale watchers.
What kind of whales are sighted in Tasmania?
Several whale species make their annual migration along the relatively calm waters of Tasmania’s East Coast, including mothers with calves (Tasmania Parks & Wildlife have a comprehensive species list).
Humpback Whales are the most commonly sighted species. These playful fellows are very acrobatic, often leaping out of the water and slapping or showing their tail before diving. Male humpbacks hang upside down in the water and sing.
A Southern Right Whale sighting is very special, as they are still dangerously low in numbers (possibly just a few thousand worldwide). The population is slow to grow, as they only produce one calf every three years and take about 10 years to reach breeding age.
Orcas, or Killer Whales, have been spotted in recent seasons and are easily distinguished by their colouring and dorsal fin. They often loiter around seal colonies (look out, seals!) and can be quite playful, leaping out of the water, slapping their tails, or travelling at a quick speed.
When can I see them?
Humpbacks migrate north between May and July and return south between September and November. Southern Right Whales head north between June and September, and head back south between September and late October.
Where is the best place to look?
Whales like to travel along the sheltered East Coast of Tasmania during their migration. Sightings regularly occur at Frederick Henry Bay, near the South Arm Peninsula, around the Tasman Peninsula, in the d’Entrecasteaux Channel, and around Bruny Island. Grab your zoom lens and head to nearby beaches, or try higher vantage points such as lookouts and coastal walking tracks.
In the Far South, Cockle Creek has a giant whale sculpture, but if you’re really lucky, you might see a real whale out in the distance. Join the Whale Spotting Tasmania Facebook group for real time tips.
Getting out on the water during whale season is a fantastic experience (boats must not approach whales closer than 100 metres). Pennicott Wilderness Journeys offer a range of tours in their zippy yellow boats, and whales are regularly spotted during their Bruny Island Cruises and Tasman Island Cruises.
What should I look for?
Scan the horizon and look for spouts of water. When you find some whale friends, hopefully they will treat you to a show! It’s a real thrill to watch their playful frolicking on the water’s surface and hear their powerful tail slaps. Watch their tails disappear down below the surface when they dive, and wait in excited anticipation for an epic breach!
To report whale sightings, call the Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Whale Hotline on 0427 942 537 (aka 0427 WHALES). This is also the number for reporting stranded whales or dolphins, injured whales, dolphins or seals, or sightings of unusual marine mammals and turtles.
We love it when you share your adventures with us! Share your snaps by tagging @hobartandbeyond and using #HobartandBeyond on Instagram and Facebook – we’ll share our favourite pics on social media and in the blog.
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Ange Anderson via @pennicottjourneys/Instagram