The Humpback Whales - Migration, facts and best whale watching spots on the East Coast of Australia

The magnificent Humpback Whales had become iconic animals in Australia. Their migration from the Antarctic to the North of Australia attracts thousands of visitors every year, locals and international tourists. We are talking about the biggest mammal migration on the planet and a unique opportunity to experience special encounters with these beautiful animals. Breathtaking moments that you will want to keep in your memory and heart forever.

The Humpback Whale Migration in Australia

The annual Humpback Whales migration starts around April and finishes in November. Of course, timing is not exact and dependes on the water temperature, sea ice and predation rise, among other factors.

After feeding during all summer in the Antarctic, the Humpback Whales start migrating to the north of Australia in search of warmer waters to mate and give birth. That is why, from May to August, it is possible to watch these amazing giants during their 5,000 km journey to the North of the country. And from August to November, they return to the Antarctic.

Australia is a very big territory, so where and when to see The Humpback Whales is totally connected to your location. For example, if you are in Tasmania, the best moment will be in May, but if you are in Cairns, probably around July and August.

Source: Ocean Life Education

Humpback Whales Facts

They are a highly protected species in Australia. Therefore, touching them and feeding them is not allowed. Vessels must travel carefully at low speed and stay at least 100 metres away. The good news is that Humpback Whales are very charismatic, friendly and love the attention, so a closer look is more than possible as they tend to approach themselves to the boats.

They average a length of 1 to 16 metres and weighing 25 to 30 metric tons, and they are named for the small hump on their dorsal fin.

Humpback Whales hunt during the summer, mostly krill, small crustaceans and schooling fish. They reproduce during the winter when males compete with each other by song, breaching, charging, sparring, tail- and fin-slapping, and elaborately moving, to mate with the females. Only male humpback whales can sing.

The gestation of a whale is around 11 months and the optimum birth temperature of the water should be around 22 or 25 degrees. This is the most important reason for Humpback Whales migration to the North of Australia every year.

There is a very popular whale called Migaloo and maybe the only pure white adult humpback whale alive nowadays. He was spotted for the first time in 1991 off Byron Bay and in 2011 a nearly all-white humpback was seen in The Whitsundays Islands and was called Migaloo Junior, although is not confirmed to be an offspring of Migaloo.

Photograph of Pacific Whale Foundation

Migaloo means “white fella” and it was named by the aboriginal community in Hervey Bay, who gave a special meaning to this mammal as for them, albino or white animals come to earth to remind us that all forms of life, even if they don´t look “normal”, should be respected and revered.

Although all Humpback Whales are protected by law in Australia, the ones that are 90% white have extra protection. Boats and vessels cannot approach within 500 metres and aircraft cannot approach within 610 metres.

Best places for Humpback Whales watching on the East Coast

During season is more than normal to spot whales just walking through the shore or from lookouts of the East Coast and West Coast. However, there are outstanding spots in Australia where close encounters are more probable due to the journey of the Humpback Whales, where they stop to rest and play, mate and give birth.

Harvey Bay, Queensland

Harvey Bay is probably the best place to watch whales in Australia, if not the world. After a long journey that started in the Antarctic and will finish in the North, the Humpback Whales stop to rest and play in the calm waters of Hervey Bay protected by Fraser Island.

From water aerial displays to flip slaps, whales give spectacular shows in Hervey Bay, where the region´s dedication to research, education and protection of this phenomenon, made it one of the most attractive place for whale watching from July to November.

Spirit of Hervey Bay, a large cruise with six different viewing deck, offer morning and afternoon tours.

If you are looking forward to motor around the bay with fewer people, Quick Cat II provides whale watching tours for low passengers number.

Cairns, Queensland

The Humpback Whale season in cairns is at its peak from July to September, when whales arrive at the warm ocean of the tropic to breed. The whales find the waters around Cairns and the Great Barrier Reed calm and friendly enough to mate and give birth.

The whale season in Cairns is concurrent to the best weather conditions to sail, snorkel, dive and explore the Great Barrier Reef, as winter brings the dry season to the North of Queensland and therefore also the calmest waters and great visibility. Although not all the touristic operators in Cairns are certified as whale watching tours, you have very high chances of spotting these beautiful mammals during your snorkelling or diving tour.

Byron Bay, New South Wales

Between mid-June to early November is the best moment to enjoy and watch the massive migration. The iconic Cape Byron Lighthouse located in the Cape Byron Conservation Area and Captain Cook Lookout are great spots as they count with panoramic views of the magnificent ocean of New South Wales East Coast.

Other promising points outside Byron Bay are the viewing platforms at Angel’s Beach and Flat Rock as well as Skennars Head, Flat Rock, Rocky Point, Boulders Beach and the Pat Morton Lookout.

Now that you read everything you need to know about the Humpback Migration in Australia´s East Coast, grab your binoculars, call your buddy and start planing how to appreciate one of the most spectacular nature phenomenons that occur every year right here in Australia.