Whale watching in Byron Bay is something every nature lover needs to experience. Spotting the ocean’s gentle giants as they play against the magnificent backdrop of one of the world’s most pristine marine parks is something you’ll remember for a lifetime. As one of Australia’s most renowned nature and ocean photographers, Craig Parry is celebrated for his intimate pictures of humpback whales. Here he shares with us his top five whale watching tips…
A fresh morning chill in the air, dew on the grass and early evening sunsets that ignite the sky. This can only mean one thing – Winter is on its way in the Southern Hemisphere. And with the arrival of the year’s coolest season, just below the surface of the ocean along Australia’s coastline there is a flurry of activity. Humpback whales are beginning their annual migration from the icy waters of the south to the warmer tropical waters of Queensland and Western Australia.
The annual whale migration past Byron Bay is a spectacle greatly anticipated by visitors and locals alike. The whales are usually cruising past Byron Bay by late May and can be spotted on their migration until October. However, this year they have been spotted as early as mid-April off the Victorian coast.
So what are the whales doing and why?
During the warmer months of the year (November to March or thereabouts), Southern Hemisphere humpback whales can be found in the abundant feeding ground of the Antarctic waters. During these months, the humpbacks will feed plentifully on krill, readying themselves for their long journey north.
Once the cooler months set in, usually around March, the whales commence their 5,000km annual migration. They are headed to the warm tropical waters of Australia, taking a few months to make it to their destination. Some move up Australia’s East Coast as far north as Hervey Bay, while others move along Australia’s West Coast as far north as Kimberley. Once at their destination, they will spend approximately two to three months mating, birthing and nursing their young in the reef protected safe waters. They then embark on the long southern migration home to the food rich waters of Antarctica.
There is an abundance of whale activity out there. After being hunted almost to the point of extinction by the 1960s when commercial whaling was finally banned in Australia; the humpback whale population is now increasing by more than 10-15% each year, with current data estimating the Southern Hemisphere humpback whale population to be back to 90% of the pre-whaling population of the late 1800s.
Whale Watching in Byron Bay
Whale watching in Byron Bay is something that must be experienced. Humpbacks travel in pairs, solo or small pods and can sometimes be seen as close as 10m from shore. Often those closest to land are mothers and calves. They can frequently be seen rolling, playing and splashing as the young learn how to breach. Mothers and calves are often seen on their south bound return trip. Swimming slower than the others, you can watch these pairs as they take their time cruising home.
You could be in luck and spot the legend of the humpback whale world, Migaloo – a rare albino who is occasionally spotted during his annual migration. Craig’s stunning award winning shot of Migaloo during his 2016 whale migration at Byron Bay is available to buy online HERE.
As well as humpback whales, the fascinating Minke Whale can be found in the tropical Queensland waters during the winter months.
Craig’s Top Five Whale Watching Tips
- If possible, head out with a local whale watching tour company. They know where the whales are and also know their behaviour. This means you’ll be sure to have the best experience possible;
- Go between July and late September as this is peak season;
- If you want to see baby whales (calves) you’ll need to go after September. This is when the pods are the slowest and heading south;
- If you can’t get on a boat there are other options. One of the best places and times to spot Humpbacks is on a coastal cliff, early in the morning. At this time the wind is generally still and the sun is low. It is a combination that means their blow can been seen for miles;
- Be patient, whales travel in pods and these pods can sometimes be a couple of hours apart. It’s worth the wait!
Happy whale watching…