Whale Watching NSW

Article reproduced with permission: Department of Environment & Conservation (NSW)
Weblink: NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service

Where can you go to see whales?

During their northern migration, most whales come within 3 km of the NSW coast of Australia. Headlands and lookouts in national parks can be the perfect place to see them. Below are links to some of the popular national parks along the New South Wales coastline where you might see whales.

(the links open a new window on the NPWS website):

Whale Watching in NSW Australia

Whale Watching in the NSW National Parks

1. Cape Byron State Conservation Area
2. Bundjalung National Park (Iluka Bluff)
3. Yuraygir National Park (Angourie Point)
4. Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve
5. Hat Head National Park (Smoky Head)
6. Kattang Nature Reserve
7. Tomaree National Park (Tomaree Head)
8. Wyrrabalong National Park(Crackneck Lookout)
9. Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park Barrenjoey Headland)
10.Sydney Harbour National Park (North Head)
11. Botany Bay National Park (Cape Solander & Cape Banks)
12. NSW Jervis Bay National Park
13. Eurobodalla National Park (Moruya Head)
14. Ben Boyd National Park (Red Point)

Late morning and early afternoon are reasonably good times of the day to whale watch from most vantage points, as the glare off the water doesn’t make sighting the tell-tale “blow” too difficult to see. Early morning can also be a good time as the “blow” is often highlighted by the backlight of the morning sun.

Keeping your distance

Vessel-based whale watching is popular in NSW. Unlike Hervey Bay in Queensland, where whales are resting with new-born calves, most humpback whales in NSW waters are actively migrating. Any disturbance by vessels has the potential to affect these animals.

Whales require ‘personal space’, and harassment may severely stress them – possibly causing accidents both for humans and whales if the whales feel threatened. This is especially important in the case of the adults with calves, which may be either resting or suckling. Research has shown that whales are highly sensitive to engine noises. You should also be aware that during the mating season, males competing for females may engage in rough physical contact.

Whales are protected animals, and if you go out on the water, you should follow the regulations below. They’ve been designed to make whale watching enjoyable and safe, without interference to the whales.
General rules

  • Abandon all contact with whales at any sign that they are disturbed or alarmed.
  • Do not separate or scatter a group of whales.
  • Do not attempt to feed whales or throw rubbish into the water.
  • Avoid loud disturbing noises near whales.
  • Observe general boating and aircraft regulations and restrictions

Swimmers and divers

It is recommended that swimmers and divers do not enter the water near whales because of the possibility of being injured. However if you are in the water and a whale approaches, do not go closer than 30 m.

Powered and unpowered vessels

  • Do not approach whales closer than 100 m.
  • Within 300 metres of a whale move at a constant slow speed, no faster than the slowest whale or at idle, “no wake” speed.
  • Approach whales from a direction parallel and slightly to the rear of the animal.
  • Avoid sudden or repeated changes in speed or direction.
  • When stopping to watch whales, either place your engines in neutral or allow the motor to idle for short period of one minute before switching off.
  • No more than three vessels should attempt to watch a whale or pod of whales at one time.
  • When attempting to watch whales, do not “box” the whales in, cut off their path or prevent them from leaving, particularly when more than one vessel is present.
  • Do not attempt to approach mothers with young calves, closer than 300 m. When leaving the whales, move off slowly at idle “no wake” speed until at least 300 m away from the closest whale, before picking up speed.


Whalewatching rules boats approach to whales

Illustration showing whale watching rules for boats.
“no waiting” and “no approach” zones; slow speed from 300m; only approach to 200m if calf is present (100m if only an adult is present). Image © NPWS

Aircraft

Do not operate any aircraft, including ultralights and hang gliders, less than 300 m (1,000 ft) above or near a whale. The use of helicopters is restricted to 400 m and should be avoided: they can cause distress to whales because of the loud noise and down-draft.

The NPWS is responsible for managing marine animals in NSW. Please report any unusual whale sightings to us. For further information please contact your nearest NPWS office.

Australian whale watching rules

Illustration showing how far you must keep away from a whale.

Planes: 300m. Helicopters: 400m. Boats and other water craft, including surfers: at least 100m. Swimmers: 30m. Image © NPWS