Each year thousands of humpback whales and rare blue whales make their annual migration along the Western Australian coast. Witness these incredible mammals as they swim through the pristine waters surrounding the Margaret River region. By Lizzy Pepper. Photos supplied by Legends Charters and Geographe Maritime Whale Watching & Bay Cruises.
They leave the feeding and breeding grounds of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, and travel to the warm waters of the Kimberley region where they give birth to live young.
They suckle their calves, in the protected waters of Camden Sound Marine Park, the “maternity ward” for around 35,000 humpback whales. Calves are nurtured in the tropical waters while they build up strength for the 3000km+ journey back to the Antarctic.
As they are often travelling with a calf on the southern migration, they tend to stay much closer to the shore than they do when heading north. The whales follow the continental shelf, hugging the coast as they travel south through the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, playfully breaching, diving and showing off their water-skills. They often come so close to shore that you can see them with binoculars or the naked eye from several lookout points.
Hear the male humpback whales’ songs in the BBC video below.
Meanwhile, Southern Right whales live in the cooler waters, and take a shorter journey each season. They migrate between Antarctica and the south coast of Australia, usually spending winter between Augusta and Esperance in Western Australia, before heading south in spring.
The video below shows Southern Right whales with a rare albino calf, spotted near Bremer Bay, Western Australia.
The annual migration gives us two opportunities for whale watching in the Margaret River region each year. It’s an awesome experience to get eyeball-close to these incredible animals, and taking a whale watching tour gives you the best opportunity. Boats can’t approach whales closer than 50 metres, but they’re curious creatures, and often come up to inspect the boat, swimming and nosing around.
There’s also some fantastic land-based lookout points where you can often spot a whale if you’re lucky – read on for a list.
In winter, we can see humpbacks and Southern Right whales in Flinders Bay, Augusta. The humpbacks are beginning their long journey north, and the Southern Right whales are at their turnaround point before they head back to Antarctica.
Whale watching boat tours operate from Augusta Harbour in June, July and August. It’s about a 30-minute drive south of Margaret River. Four operators offer twice daily tours, generally departing around 10am and 2pm.
Spring Whale Watching Tours in Dunsborough & Busselton
In spring we see humpback whales in Geographe Bay and along the Cape to Cape coast. By this stage the whales have had their young and are returning south with their calves.
The southerly ocean current hugs the coast, so they tend to do a clockwise tour of Geographe Bay, passing Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough and Cape Naturaliste.
Whale watching tours of Geographe Bay depart Dunsborough and Busselton from the beginning of September to mid December.
Look out! Great land-based lookout points
If you’re on a budget or don’t have sea legs, try your luck at one of these great lookouts. The best time of day is around midday, when there’s less glare on the water. You’re more likely to see a whale when the water is calm.
WINTER LOOK OUTS
Cape Leeuwin & Flinders Bay, Augusta – numerous vantage points are along Leeuwin Road and enjoy fantastic views from the top of the
Hamelin Bay – 18km north of Augusta, south of the boat ramp, follow the boardwalk up to the limestone headland.
Gnarabup – If you are lucky see them leaping whilst sipping a coffee at White Elephant Cafe or venture up the dunes behind Grunters for a higher viewpoint.
SPRING TIME CHECK POINTS
Cape Naturaliste Lookout Platform and Lighthouse – take the walk trail to the whale watching lookout – it’s 1.3km return from the lighthouse car park.
Point Picquet – a fantastic rocky point above deep water where rare blue whales have been known to swim past very close. It’s where the local conservation group does its whale monitoring.
Shelley Cove, Bunker Bay – walk from the car park to the viewing platform above the limestone cliffs.
Yallingup, Rabbits Lookout – continue past Dawson Drive into the National Park for an elevated lookout spot.
Canal Rocks Rotary Lookout – 4km south of Yallingup, take the 400m walk from the car park.