Western Australia’s South West has Australia’s longest whale-watching season – taking place at Flinders Bay, Augusta, from June to August, and Geographe Bay from September to early December. Many would claim the Margaret River region is the best location to observe humpbacks, southern right whales, rare blue whales, pygmy whales and their calves.
In fact, Geographe Bay is so favourable it becomes a whale nursery. As Chandra Salgado Kent from the collaborative research program SouWEST (Southwest Whale Ecology Study) notes; “The waters of Geographe Bay provide a relatively sheltered environment for southern right whales during their breeding and calving season, and for humpback whales and blue whales migrating south along the Australian coastline towards Antarctic feeding grounds. Sometimes mother-calf pairs are seen resting in Geographe Bay while the mother suckles her calf”.
The study is a long-term collaboration between Western Whale Research, Curtin University and Dunsborough Coast and Land Care, with support from Naturaliste Volunteer Sea Rescue and generous volunteers. Their aim is to collect information on the behaviour and population of the whales using Geographe Bay and how changes in the environment affect their numbers and behaviours.
There of course continue to be many threats to the whale population, including pollution, disease and climate change. As long as these impacts are managed, recovery to their previous numbers is possible. Whale watching itself has to obey strict rules to ensure it doesn’t add to the problem. It’s imperative to join an accredited tour company which is mindful of noise pollution, controls the number of daily tours and number of passengers while also abiding by the distance ruling.
- Whale Watch Western Australia welcomes you aboard the luxurious 25 metre Steep Point, with 5 viewing decks.
- Legend Charters is a TripAdvisor favourite, family run business which has been operating in the region for many years.
- All Sea Charters Whale Watching & Deep Sea Fishing – For $80 you can experience some of Western Australia’s best whale watching.
- Naturaliste Charters are pioneers of whale watching in the south west. They have a new 20m catamaran purpose-built for whale watching.
- Geographe Maritime Whale Watching & Bay Cruises offers a marine biologist crew, who give you an accurate and educational commentary. (operates August – November, Port Geographe, Busselton only)
- Jet Adventures will give you a more adventurous view with their Whale Safaris aboard their purpose built jet boat, the Exhilarator. (operates September-December, Dunsborough only)
Curious by nature, whales will naturally approach vessels. And, as skipper of Legend Charters Dean Jensen says: “They’re so inquisitive they will often swim and play alongside the boat and even brush up against the boat, but they never charge. It’s not in their gentle nature. If they lose interest they will disappear but we never interfere with their patterns.”
It almost makes you wonder if they’re collecting information about us too. Naturaliste Charters owner Paul Cross has the longest established whale-watching company, which was founded in 1993. Taking visitors out with highly experienced marine science skippers on a purpose-built vessel, Paul recommends you keep watching the ocean.
“Take your eye off the camera and enjoy the experience. It’s all about the beautiful remote location you can’t get anywhere else,” he says.
Some skippers suggest taking sea-sickness medication, particularly in Flinders Bay in Augusta where the conditions can be rough – and for Bremer Bay which is a new market and about 100km east of Albany, where data collecting of killer and sperm whales is all part of the tour.
For those that prefer to keep their feet dry, we know the best on-shore spots from which to catch the ocean giants. Some of them include:
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.
Numerous sightings were seen at Gnarabup last year. If you are lucky see them leaping whilst sipping a coffee at White Elephant or venture up the dunes behind Grunters for a higher viewpoint.
Cape Naturaliste Lookout Platform and Lighthouse 13km from Dunsborough, the view from both top of the lighthouse and its viewing deck promises whale sightings.
Shelley Cove, part of Bunker Bay 13km from Dunsborough, walk from the car park to the viewing platform above the limestone cliffs.
Canal Rocks Rotary Lookout 4km south of Yallingup take the 400m walk from the car park.
All operators offer food on board and have a 99% success rate for sightings. In the rare instance where there isn’t a sighting, all tours guarantee another tour for free.
It’s estimated each season attracts 35,000 whales, most of which are humpbacks which have been steadily increasing in population since the ban on whaling.
This post was last updated on 20 June 2018.